Missouri has finally moved to close down a puppy mill owner who’s been on the radar of federal and state inspectors for more than two decades for serious neglect of animals in her facility.
Marilyn Shepherd (a.k.a. Marilyn Williams) and her Cedercrest Kennel (a.k.a. Pup 4 U) had operated without a federal license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than 20 years, and without a state license from Missouri for six months. She had appeared five times in our annual Horrible Hundred report on problem puppy mills in the United States and we had repeatedly complained about her facility to the USDA, which is charged with inspecting commercial breeding facilities that sell online or through pet stores.
During this time Shepherd likely had hundreds of dogs at her operation—dogs who, by all accounts, were denied the most basic care. When Missouri finally moved to shut down her kennel on July 14, she had 107 adult dogs and 60 puppies on the premises. The petition filed against Williams stated that several dogs exhibited “severe eye infections, bloody lesions and abrasions, lacerations causing hair loss, [and] severely matted fur resulting in redness and irritation.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office said authorities served a temporary restraining order without notice against the kennel (and Shepherd) for continuing violations of the state’s Animal Care Facilities Act, including breeding and selling dogs without a current license, and for repeatedly failing to provide proper housing and medical care to the dogs.
This is the sixth Missouri puppy mill from our annual Horrible Hundred report that the attorney general has moved to shut down in recent years. Missouri has ranked at the top of that report every year for the last eight years we’ve been publishing it, with the most problem mills.
In a press release, Mr. Schmitt promised to continue fighting such abuse, which is great news. Action against Shepherd has been long overdue. Her operation first appeared on our Horrible Hundred report in 2016. She had so many federal violations that the USDA refused to renew her license in 1998, and she was permanently barred from obtaining a new USDA license in 2007.
In 2006, the USDA slapped her with a $25,000 penalty, followed by a civil penalty of $52,000 in 2007. Still, Shepherd continued to sell puppies all over the country via her Pups4U website until recently. And all this time Missouri continued to renew her state license until earlier this year.
We are happy that Shepherd will finally be made to answer for the pain and suffering she has caused. Because justice is so often delayed for puppy mill animals, lawmakers in many states have started taking action themselves to stop this cruelty. In recent years, three states, California, Maryland and Maine, and more than 350 different localities, have ended the sale of puppies in pet stores altogether. In New York, where the Senate last week passed a bill to ban the sales of puppies, kittens and rabbits in pet stores by a landslide margin of 48 to 12, momentum for such a ban is building. The New York Senate’s action sends a strong message to pet stores in the state to change their business model. Roughly 10% of the puppy selling pet stores in the United States are located in New York state, including a Petland store near Syracuse. The state Assembly will revisit the legislation in January.
The war against puppy mills is one we are fighting on so many fronts, including in the courts, state legislatures, municipalities, through our pet store investigations and by raising awareness about the animal cruelty these operations perpetrate, through our Horrible Hundred report. Our Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores program works with pet stores around the nation to help them switch from selling puppies to adopting out dogs and cats from local shelters. The reason breeders like Marilyn Shepherd stay in business and are able to cash in on the suffering of animals is that so many people are still captivated by the doggie in the window of a pet store, or by a cute photo on the internet, and we are hard at work to educate consumers to start looking only to responsible breeders and to shelters and rescues when they want to bring an animal home. Our work on each one of these fronts will continue full-steam until we win the war against puppy mills.
P.S. CNN recently revealed that Petland, the only national pet store chain that still sells puppies, including animals sourced from puppy mills, has received $2 to 5 million in loans from the federal government, despite keeping stores open during the coronavirus pandemic and reporting record puppy sales. It is shocking that Petland should benefit from a massive influx of taxpayer cash when it has consistently refused to do the right thing by its customers and pay veterinary costs to people it has sold sick puppies to. Just last week, we reported that seven families are suing Petland in South Carolina for selling them sick puppies. Some spent thousands of dollars to treat their dogs, not to mention the distress they endured in watching their beloved pet suffer.