In their annual list of worst dog breeders in the country, advocacy group Humane Society of the United States had Missouri topping the list with 26 of the most abusive puppy mills.
Since the list was first published 10 years ago, Missouri has topped the list each year. In 2022 the Show-Me state garnered 26 spots on the list — compared to just 17 in Iowa, 12 in New York and seven each in Kansas and Wisconsin.
“The 2022 Horrible Hundred report is our 10th annual report on problem puppy breeders and dealers in the United States. The Humane Society of the United States has published the Horrible Hundred report annually since 2013 to warn consumers about common problems at puppy mills and puppy-selling dealers, and to push for new legislation and stronger enforcement of humane laws. Altogether, our 10 years of reports have covered more than 650 breeders and dealers in 33 different states over that same period,” reads the report.
That Missouri has so many puppy mills is no surprise, according to Humane Society Stop Puppy Mills campaign senior director John Goodwin.
“Missouri has always been at the heart of the puppy mill industry since the beginning,” Goodwin told the News-Leader. “The post-World War II era was a time period where there was a lot of consolidation in agriculture and a lot of small farms closed. This industry was seen as a solution in midwestern states and Missouri became the epicenter of large-scale pully mills.”
That evolution was aided by regulations allowing puppy mills to flourish, Goodwin said. That would have changed in a 2010 proposition approved by voters that would have required large-scale breeders to provide “sufficient food, clean water, housing and space” to the dogs under their care as well as providing “necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles.”
After the initiative was passed, the language of the regulations were changed by the state legislature. According to Goodwin, these measures watered down protections for animals and were pushed through the legislature by agricultural special interests.
“It doesn’t make sense to most people. Why agricultural interest with puppy mills? But they believe that if we protect dogs, they’ll be required to give pigs and chickens enough room in turn around. They saw this as something that could cause other animals to be treated better, which affects the almighty dollar,” Goodwin said.
Dog breeders are also regulated in the state by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. According to their website, current law requires breeders to use elevated flooring with solid resting areas, animals with serious illness or injury must be treated promptly by a licensed veterinarian, they must provide continuous access to potable water that is not frozen, and meet spacing requirements based on the number of dogs.
The Humane Society advocates for the abolishment of puppy mills and replacing the industry with small-scale breeders.
“A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding kennel where the animals are viewed not as family pets but as units of production. So you walk into a puppy mill, you find row after row of dogs living in cages — being bred every heat cycle till their body wears out,” Goodwin said.
While the Humane Society works toward the abolition of the practice, they advocate for stricter regulation of the industry.
“Right now under the USDA regulations, you can keep a dog in a cage there’s only six inches longer than her body. You can keep a dog in a cage standing on wire flooring her entire life. They can breed her every heat cycle until her body wears out, and then they can kill her,” Goodwin said. “And we call for spacious, comfortable enclosures with humane flooring with limits on how many times a dog is bred — with daily exercise and socialization requirements.”
Breeders in SWMO
Of the 26 dog breeders cited by the Human Society in Missouri, at least ten reside in southwest Missouri. Closest to Springfield is Wendy Laymon, who breeds dogs in nearby Rogersville. Since the 1990s Laymon has continuously received violations from both the USDA and state regulators in Missouri and Washington state.
“(Laymon) was given two official warnings for repeated violations in 2021 and 2022; has a 20-plus-year history of recurring problems with poor veterinary care, inadequate housing, sick puppy sales and legal issues,” reads the report.
Her breeding facility was shut down in Washington and Laymon was banned from owning animals in the state. She then moved to Missouri and reopened her kennel just outside of Springfield.
In 2009 action was levied against Laymon for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. She was fined $7,125 and banned from holding a USDA license for three years. But Laymon continued to be licensed by the state of Missouri.
Reached for comment by the News-Leader, Laymon denied she treated dogs under her care poorly — claiming she runs “one of the nicest kennels in the whole world.”
Before disconnecting from the call, Laymon said the Humane Society had been harassing her for many years and said she would sue if the News-Leader reports her business’ long history of violations.
According to Laymon’s website, she promises to “promote the highest ideals among dog owners and breeders.”
Here is an incomplete snapshot of other SWMO breeders included in the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” list.
Cory’s Cuties in Elkland
Having previously been sued by the Missouri Attorney General and fined $4,500, Cory’s Cuties’ owner was again found in 2021 and 2022 with a thin dog, dogs and puppies who had no water, dogs and puppies forced to stand in their own feces, and many other significant issues impacting the basic health and well-being of her dogs.
In 2021 an inspector found puppies standing in their own waste at the Elkland kennel.
“I observed an enclosure housing five weaned Pomeranian puppies that contained an excessive amount of feces in the indoor and outdoor portions of their enclosure. These puppies were unable to avoid contact with the feces in the enclosure,” reads the inspector’s report.
The owner of Cory’s Cuties did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the News-Leader.
According to their website, dogs bred by the business are “well socialized & ready for their new families.”
“I have been raising puppies for 20 years now and enjoy every one of them. They are each special in their own way and no 2 have ever been alike!” it reads.
Arrowhead Springs Kennel in Ava
Arrowhead Springs Kennel in Ava received USDA violations in November 2021 for a very thin mother dog named Fancy whose ribs were prominent and who had not been evaluated or treated by a veterinarian.
“A red & white Australian Shepherd female with 7 puppies (approximately 1 week old), is very thin. There was an abdominal tuck and the spine and ribs were easily felt by the inspector.” The owner claimed they were feeding the dog, but “there was no consultation with a veterinarian to establish a diagnosis or treatment for this dog.”
There were more than 50 dogs and puppies present at the time of the inspection.
Incredible Puppies in Rocky Comfort
Between May 2021 and February 2022, state inspectors had questions about at least seven different dogs at Incredible Puppies who died, with six noted to be under unexplained circumstances. In May 2021, state inspectors noted that “since the previous inspection at least five dogs have died or were euthanized” and the licensee was unable to provide full information on when the dogs died for at least four of the animals. The inspector also noted that there were “twelve unidentified weaned puppies being housed in outdoor and sheltered enclosures,” and there was another violation for poor recordkeeping on dogs, according to state records.
The News-Leader was unable to contact the owner of Incredible Puppies.
How to avoid puppy mills
A full list of Missouri breeders on the “Horrible Hundred” list can be found on the Humane Society’s website.
To avoid receiving a pet from a puppy mill, Goodwin cautioned to not purchase puppies online or in pet stores.
“Don’t buy a pet store puppy or puppy over the internet sight unseen. Those almost always come from puppy mills. And if you think about it, that’s because high volume pet retailers need high volume breeders to keep those display cases filled with puppies at all times,” he said.
If possible, prospective pet owners should try to adopt a dog from a shelter. If purchasing a puppy in-person or online, request to see the breeder, the puppy’s mother and where the mother lives.
“That will provide a level of transparency to help weed out any puppy mills.”