Woman spends $35,000 to care for a sick dog

Lisa Thompson’s six-year-old dog, Rodeo, is an American Kennel Club- registered Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who looks happy, but he’s very sick.

He had a stroke when he was just two years old. Now he has a pill box. Thompson gives rodeo four pills a day to prevent seizures, mini-strokes, and blood clots.

“I don’t have a choice,” said Thompson. “If I want him to live and be a part of my life, this is necessary. There’s no way around it.”

Thompson spent $2,500 to buy Rodeo and more than $35,000 on vet bills over the last six years.

Thompson, and three other dog owners, are suing a Lineville, Alabama breeder, who’s moved out of state. They claim that the puppies they bought were raised in a puppy mill and that the “illnesses, congenital or hereditary conditions” they have were a result of “substandard housing” and “irresponsible breeding practices.”

“I got the great song and dance,” Thompson said. “My dogs are AKC registered, she tells me. I’m a Breeder of Merit. And I’m thinking all of these things mean something with regard to the health of the dog. I had no idea that it really didn’t.”

In the video above, you’ll see photos taken in October 2014 and provided to ABC 33/40 News by the Alabama Puppy Mill Project. It’s where Rodeo came from, although Thompson had no idea Rodeo’s breeder had so many dogs.

Rescue organizations raised money to buy the dogs at auction and placed them in permanent homes.

“Ultimately she (the breeder) had 160 dogs,” said Thompson’s lawyer Angie Ingram. “How can you physically take care of that many dogs?”

Ingram, who founded the Alabama Puppy Mill Project, says there are probably hundreds of puppy mills in Alabama. There’s no way to know for sure because there’s no state licensing program.

Two million puppy mill puppies are reportedly sold annually to unsuspecting buyers

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills across the country. These are inhumane, mass dog-breeding facilities where the health of the dogs is disregarded to maximize profits.

Nearly two million puppies, that originate from puppy mills, are sold each year to unsuspecting buyers online or through certain pet shops and flea markets all over the country.

Puppy mills that mass produce dogs are located all over the U.S. and those puppies are sold all over the country.

According to the HSUS, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas have the highest concentration of puppy mills. So, if your dog’s parents came from one of those states—that’s a big red flag.

Puppy mill puppies are prone to health problems

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the HSUS, say puppy mill puppies are prone to have congenital and hereditary conditions such as heart disease, blood, skin and respiratory disorders, seizures, skeletal disorders, deafness and blindness.

And the HSUS says that AKC registration of your puppy is no protection despite the fancy show dog names you see on registration certificates.

In fact, the organization estimates that the AKC makes close to $20 million a year from puppy mills.

The AKC registers a very large number of puppies that come from puppy mills, said John Goodwin, senior director of HSUS’ Stop Puppy Mills campaign. “For every puppy they register, they make some money. And at the end of the day, it’s the bottom line that causes them to be on the wrong side of this issue.

There are plenty of responsible breeders affiliated with AKC.

But AKC registration only means your dog is a purebred — that your puppy’s mother and father are the same breed.

The AKC response

We reached out to the AKC’s vice president of public relations and communications, Brandi Hunter, to get their side of the story. She didn’t respond to our repeated calls or emails until the morning after our story was broadcast on February 13th, during our 10 pm newscast, and published on our website:

Here are a few responses:

• “The AKC does not condone substandard kennels also known as puppy mills.”

• “The American Kennel Club is a registry body, responsible for tracking the lineage of dogs of a variety of breeds. Health is the responsibility of the breeder.”

• “The naming of the dog (in AKC registration papers) is at the discretion of the breeder. It is the breeder’s responsibility to be truthful about the lineage of the dog.”

• “The AKC is the only private registry that does inspections and we can only inspect breeders that register dogs with the AKC. We have no control over breeders that do not use our services. There are several other registries that people choose to use.”

Hunter also responded to the HSUS’ claims that the AKC makes close to $20 million a year from puppy mills.

“This is based on an inaccurate message that HSUS contrived and it is no way a true account of any of the business that the AKC does,” Hunter said. “They have no true information (about) AKC whatsoever. Once again we do not support puppy mills, nor does any amount of our business (come) from or depend on puppy mills.”

The response from the attorney for Rodeo's breeder

Meantime, the attorney representing Rodeo’s breeder said he has no comment.

Shopping for a healthy dog

Where should you go to find a healthy dog?

Check out your local shelter. You can find great dogs and cats there.

You can also check out these tips from the HSUS on how to find a responsible dog breeder.

Pending legislation in Alabama

Meantime, a bill designed to license Alabama dog and cat breeders, that have more than 10 female dogs or cats that are capable of being bred and that sell more than 20 animals a year, has been introduced in the state legislature.

The bill would establish an inspection and licensing program, to make sure that dogs and cats are being bred responsibly so that consumers are buying healthy animals from breeders.

The bill should be discussed in committee in a few weeks.

But keep in mind, the puppy mill problem is a national one.

Puppies that come from puppy mills are transported all over the country. So you have to be very careful about who you buy your dog from.

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