Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« Pajamafication of America Hits Snag in Bennington | Main | UVM Profs Rankled by President's Severance Package »

July 27, 2011

State Police and Humane Society Workers Raid Unlicensed Bakersfield Puppy Mill

PUPPY_MILL__2 Vermont State Police and an animal rescue task force from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) seized 54 dogs Tuesday from a Bakersfield puppy mill, where the animals were allegedly being housed in cruel and unsanitary conditions. (Watch an HSUS video of the rescue here.)

Police and animal welfare workers arrived at the Bakersfield home of Karen Maple, 48, to find scores of Labrador retrievers, both adults and puppies, crowded into small, wire, feces-encrusted pens, as well as numerous dogs running free. Many were malnourished and suffering from a variety of medical conditions, including dehydration and untreated wounds. The HSUS alleges that the property owner was illegally selling puppies over the internet and via local classified ads to unsuspecting consumers. Maple now faces charges of animal cruelty as well as assault on a police officer.

"I can’t tell you what the scene was like. Words just fail me," says Tom Ayres, president and CEO of the Chittenden County Humane Society, which participated in a rescue operation that stretched from Tuesday morning until late in the night. "The conditions that these dogs were in and the condition of the property was just horrific."

According to Ayres, an animal control officer in Bakersfield was tipped off by "an anonymous but very, very detailed" informant living near the property. The informant's report went so far as to include the names of individual dogs and specific descriptions of their conditions.

The animal control officer subsequently contacted the Vermont State Police and HSUS, the latter of which sent in a specially trained puppy mill task force from Washington, D.C. Workers and volunteers from the Humane Society of Chittenden County and the Franklin County Humane Society were also on hand to provide animal handling and transportation assistance.

"There were a lot of other dogs of varying ages, in a number of outbuildings on the property," Ayres adds. "Those were the animals of the greatest concern. They were living in pretty dire straits."

PUPPY_MILL__1 Once safely removed, the 54 dogs were transported to an undisclosed location. There, the dogs will be thoroughly examined by a team of veterinarians and provided with medical treatment. The HSUS will oversee the shelter and care of the dogs until their custody is determined in an upcoming disposition hearing.

According to Ayres, about a dozen other animals had to be left on the property in the custody of Maple's children. "I wish we could have gotten all the dogs off that site," he explains, but under the terms of the search warrant issued to the state police, only those that were deemed to be in "imminent danger" or clearly being held under inhumane conditions could be seized.

Although large-scale puppy mills of this kind are rare in Vermont, HSUS reports that cases like this one are on the rise. As Seven Days reported in March 2011, the HSUS and other animal-welfare advocates have been trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to beef up Vermont's laws governing unlicensed dog-breeding operations, more commonly referred to as "puppy mills."

Specifically, H.340, also known as the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act," which was introduced earlier this year, spelled out the conditions under which breeder animals may be kept and would have capped at 50 the number of sexually "intact" dogs that may be kept for the breeding and selling of offspring.

A second bill, H.303, would have required anyone who sells more than one litter of puppies per year, or two or more dogs older than six months, to be licensed as a pet merchant and inspected by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. A copy of that license would be sent to the Vermont Department of Taxes; the merchant’s license number would be required in any animals-for-sale advertisements. Under current law, legitimate pet stores and commercial breeders are already regulated and subject to inspection. However, a loophole in the law allows for a personal-use exemption for the breeding of "personal pets."

Both bills died in committee this year but are expected to come around again when the Vermont Legislature reconvenes in January. As Ayres put it, "This proves that this kind of thing in going on in our midst and really calls for more stringent pet merchant legislation."

The HSUS encourages people to adopt dogs from animal shelters or buy from reputable breeders they have screened in person rather than purchasing a puppy from a pet store or online seller, where dogs may come from puppy mills.

PUPPY_MILL__3 How do consumers know if they’re dealing with someone who may be operating a puppy mill? One red flag, according to HSUS's Joanne Bourbeau, is when the pet seller adds a surcharge for providing pedigree papers — a violation of American Kennel Club rules, she says — or offers to conduct the transaction off site, such as in a parking lot or shopping center.

"A responsible breeder will be more than happy to show you their facilities and let you meet the sire and dame," she says. "These dogs are often living as their family pets."

All photos by David Sokol, courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States.

I'm not against the bills, but I would caution that Vermont has a habit of taking on responsibilities and then not funding any enforcement. For example last year's housing law violations in Barre and cases of senior abuse that were not investigated, despite a law.

Perhaps instead of the Agency of Agriculture, the UVM trustees should oversee these matters, as they have money to lavish on their pet university presidents.

The beauty of the Pet Merchant Bill - it more than funds itself. Right now sales tax is supposed to be charged on puppy sales. It is not collected in the majority of cases. Rough estimates are that there is between $500,000 and $1,000,000 lost in sales tax alone on uncollected taxes from puppy sales.

I don't understand. The photos showed a pen with no visible feces, described as "feces-encrusted" and some dogs and puppies that appeared to be well-fed and healthy but described as "malnourished." Why were these dogs taken and why are the photographs so much different from what's described in the text?

As one of the first responders to this puppy mill situation, responsible in part for ID-ing and processing the dogs for transport to a safe emergency shelter, I can assure you that many of the 54 dogs seized were indeed kept in dark, dank, feces- and urine-laden locations, despite what you might glean from the small selection of photos shown above. All of the dogs on the property were carefully examined by two veterinarians, who identified 54 animals who met the "imminent danger" or "inhumane conditions" criterion of the search warrant. The condition of these dogs was carefully documented by the vets and by the HSUSA investigators. As a member of the team that prepared these animals for transport and who then helped transport them to a distant emergency shelter, I can say I personally encountered many dogs whose ribs protruded frighteningly from their skin, who showed signs of conjunctivitis and other eye and skin conditions, and who also had signs of untreated injuries. In addition, the fecal and ammonia (urine) odors throughout the buildings in the compound (including the main house) were indicative of long-term, unsanitary, and unhealthful conditions for all. I deeply regret that we were unable to remove all the dogs from that horrible place, but under the terms of the warrant State Police would only authorize the seizure of those animals who were obviously in the most dire straits. I suggest that Cynthia and others view the video above and also recommend that people continue to track this story in the local media. We will also be continuing to report on it in our newsletters, blogs, and other communications at I also encourage Cynthia and others to contact me directly at [email protected] if they would like to discuss their questions and concerns about this eminently justifiable animal seizure further. I would be more than happy to talk with you.

THANK YOU to HSUS and the volunteers that worked on this rescue and other cases. These puppy mills are operating all around VT. If you see something like this where animals are not being properly cared for, please report it to your local ACO, police and, providing as much detail as possible, so that we can put an end to this horrible cruelty. The dogs removed from Bakersfield will now have a chance at a better life.

When, oh, when will animal cruelty be deemed a felony in Vermont and pepetrators serve prison time?

Thank you to Seven Days and HSUS for making the public aware of this seizure. If there is any question Re: the inhumane conditions these dogs were kept in..viewing the video will put those questions to rest.

This is something that should never happen. This woman should have been stopped before it reached quite this bad a level. My family and I (I was just starting highschool) bought a puppy from Karen Maple. The house was dirty and there were about four or five litters of puppies at that time. We were told that we couldn't see the male dogs in the back because they were unfriendly. There were many many dogs. The dog we ended up with is now named Jake. He was a runt and the last of his litter to be adopted. If we hadn't taken him I now dread where he may have ended up! Jake would have either ended up dead or as a breeder dog. He is such a sweet boy with so much love and trust that I would hate to have seen that happen. I believe that Jake, due to poor breeding on the part of Maple, may not have the same mental capacity as our other dogs but he more than makes up for it in love and personality. Also as a puppy he developed some hip problems that are very common for Labradors that have come from overbreeding situations. I'm very aware that purchasing him helped keep Maple's "business" going but after seeing the conditions and later reading this article and others like it I am glad that I was able to save at least one puppy from the cruelty she imposed on them.

As a resident of Bakersfield, I can attest to many, many people have reported what was going on up at Karen Maples' place for years and years!!
However, the Vermont State Police made the choice to ignore our pleas' for help for the dogs and children! It breaks my heart to know how very bad it is up there, and she will continue to breed and sell sick animals to unknowing people. I wonder why the I.R.S. hasn't checked out if she ever claimed her income on these dogs???? The house should be condemmed, all of the rest of the animals need to be removed. She has terrorized neighbors and other people all over the town. The State Police have pages upon pages of reports from different residents, and they turned their back on "us" the "victims here."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684