In the ongoing, critical fight against pet shops and puppy mills, 2023 presented many new challenges. But thanks to the generous support of our donors, CAPS once again scored major victories at every level: local, state, and national.
Our undercover investigators went to numerous pet shops and puppy mills across the country. We used evidence from these investigations to advance and reinforce legislation to ban the retail sale of animals in multiple states, including Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida. In addition, CAPS’ investigation of a horrific unlicensed puppy mill in Iowa resulted in animal cruelty charges against the owner and the rescue of his dogs. And our new documentary about online puppy sales will be released by the end of the year.
In California, CAPS has now saved more than 200 dogs from a high-kill shelter in Bakersfield, and we have launched an online complaint form that lets people report abuses at the state’s municipal shelters. We also began shooting a much-needed documentary about the inhumane crisis currently happening at those same shelters. And nationwide, CAPS released a PSA in Spanish and English about the importance of spaying and neutering, which is airing on 135 TV and radio stations so far.
These efforts and victories, made possible by your support, are just a few of our accomplishments in 2023. Please keep reading to learn more about the powerful achievements your donations have been generating.
Our investigation of unlicensed puppy mills in Texas helped bring about new legislation that lowered the threshold of dogs allowed before a breeder must obtain a state license. Dog or cat breeders with at least five breeding females will now have to be licensed and inspected if their animals are bred for direct or indirect sales. CAPS worked closely with the Texas Humane Legislation Network to make this happen.
The law will regulate facilities like Kerrie Engelmann’s, where CAPS found French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas living in squalor. Engelmann sells puppies online, without a USDA license, under the name of Pocketbook Puppies. Moving forward, CAPS will be investigating and exposing any facilities we find to be skirting the new law.
Texas recently passed a preemption bill, which will prevent municipalities from enacting new retail ban ordinances, so a statewide ban is now more critical than ever. So far, CAPS has investigated 16 of the state’s 32 pet shops, along with many of the mills supplying them. This evidence will aid Rep. Jared Patterson, who is pursuing a statewide retail ban. Beyond this, we have partnered with the Texas Attorney General’s Office on a consumer fraud case against eight Petland stores, four of which are run by notorious Petland franchise owner Luis Marquez, who also has stores in Florida and Kansas.
You can learn more about our Texas work here .
CAPS began its New York Pet Shop Campaign as a collaboration with the New York Attorney General to expose and crack down on consumer fraud at pet shops. But because of the strength of our investigative evidence, we also worked closely with New York legislators for several years to pass a state law banning the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits. The legislation finally passed and was signed into law in December of last year! The stores have until the end of 2024 to come into compliance.
Our decade-plus of investigations in New York included multiple visits to the two Shake A Paw stores in Nassau County. We gave our evidence to the New York Attorney General, which filed a complaint to permanently enjoin the stores from operating and to seek restitution for defrauded customers. The allegations include selling sick and injured puppies, failing to disclose medical conditions, selling puppies from mills, refusing to reimburse customers for veterinary bills, and failing to provide refunds. CAPS is currently working closely with the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of the Nassau County Office to help her prepare for the upcoming trial. CAPS investigators may be asked to testify about their investigations.
On August 1, 2023, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed HB 2915, which bans the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits. CAPS started working with Rep. David Gomberg on this legislation in 2018. We investigated the state’s two remaining pet shops: Critter Cabana in Wilsonville and Critter Cabana in Newberg, which claim to get their puppies from local breeders. In violation of the state lemon law, neither store provides the names of its breeders when asked. However, CAPS discovered the identity of one breeder and investigated, finding a rental property with Catahoula dogs living in substandard conditions.
When Rep. David Gomberg reintroduced the state pet shop bill in 2022, a clause grandfathering in both Critter Cabanas had been added. But CAPS President Deborah Howard submitted testimony in opposition, citing the failure of Washington’s grandfather clause law, which left in place the state’s Critter Cabana stores investigated by CAPS. We strongly urged the Oregon State Legislature to remove the grandfather clause. The final legislation allows the Critter Cabana stores to stay in business for five more years.
Since early 2022, CAPS has been helping Kern County Animal Services in Bakersfield, CA, an overcrowded high-kill shelter with 400 dogs and puppies, housed in two large metal warehouses with small kennels and no outdoor runs. So far, our efforts have saved the lives of 214 dogs.
This year, CAPS began making a short documentary about the deplorable abandoned dog situation in Kern County, as well as the overall statewide crisis at California’s municipal shelters. Most of the state’s municipal shelters have been underfunded for years, which results in awful living conditions, higher euthanasia rates, and lack of timely veterinary care. The shelters usually operate without local oversight.
When our documentary is complete, CAPS will use it to reach out to California legislators to sponsor a bill to establish a shelter licensing and inspection program similar to the bill that recently passed in New York. CAPS is raising funds to make this critical documentary.
CAPS spent 13 years laying the groundwork for a statewide retail ban in Illinois, which finally became law two years ago. However, some pet shops have been circumventing the law. Furry Babies (with two locations remaining) is selling fraudulent rescue puppies from Dog Mother Rescue in Missouri, which is run by a puppy mill broker and transporter named Alison Hedgpeth. But through our efforts, Pocket Puppies in Arlington, which was also selling dogs from Dog Mother Rescue, closed. However, another small pet shop is still selling mill-bred puppies without even claiming that they come from rescues; CAPS reported the store. But now it is selling only by appointment, which is also illegal. We continue to investigate and will stop the use of fraudulent rescues in Illinois, just like we did a few years ago in California.
CAPS has been laying the groundwork for pet shop ordinances in Florida, which has 68 pet shops, surpassing New York as the number one pet shop state. Since 2018, CAPS has gone undercover into more than 60 pet shops in Florida, including every store in Broward, Palm Beach, and Collier Counties, along with the Petland in Doral, to gather evidence in support of retail ban ordinances. All of the stores we visited made false claims about their breeders. Currently, CAPS is investigating puppy mills that sell to these stores, and our findings clearly contradict the stores’ misrepresentations.
We are working to get the most animal-friendly commissioners in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to sponsor ordinances to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits.
The pet shop ordinance strategy continues to gain steam, keeping mill-bred animals out of consumer hands. Shelter statistics show that adoption rates increase after the implementation of retail ban laws. But CAPS needs substantial resources to conduct our undercover investigations and gather evidence to help pass these laws.
Internet Breeders and Sellers
Many of the horrible USDA-licensed breeders that we have investigated are now selling online. We have also found numerous unlicensed breeders selling over the internet, which is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. As usual, the USDA is not enforcing the law.
Late last year, CAPS investigated a Sheltie breeder in Iowa named Tom Grove who was selling puppies over Hoobly Classifieds. His breeding dogs lived in awful conditions, and he admitted to shooting many of his puppies. Our investigator filed a report with the sheriff and rescued two of the dogs. In 2023, we released a shocking video exposé of Tom Grove’s facility. Grove finally relinquished the rest of his dogs to a rescue, and the sheriff’s office filed cruelty charges against him. Thankfully, he is no longer breeding. But the problem of online animal sales continues to grow.
To bring awareness to this issue, CAPS has produced a new documentary about internet breeders and sellers (those who buy from mills but don’t breed). The documentary includes undercover footage of mills that sell online and interviews with customers who bought sick and dying puppies online. We will be releasing this documentary at the end of the year.
National Latino Outreach
In 2023, CAPS put out a new PSA in English and Spanish about the importance of spaying and neutering dogs and cats. The PSA stars Jacqueline Piñol, a professional actress and animal advocate whose parents came from Latin America. Our primary focus is on the Latino community, but we have also been placing the English PSA on stations in lower socioeconomic geographic areas.
The PSA is currently running in 25 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Spanish version is on 128 stations, and the English version is on seven stations and a cable network. Let it Be Known Public Relations, which also placed our prior PSAs, has been doing the outreach for the spay and neuter PSA.
Well-known Spanish television host Maria Antonieta Collins interviewed Ms. Piñol for a 6.5-minute segment on Univision’s popular morning news program Despierta America. The segment, “Anor Eterno,” is about the importance of spay/neuter and adoption of animals from rescue organizations and shelters.
We Need Your Help!
CAPS, as the nonprofit that pioneered the ordinance movement, is pouring all of its expertise and resources into a region-by-region and state-by-state effort to ban the retail sale of animals across the United States through local ordinances and statewide laws. And this strategy is working! Since 2010, the number of USDA-licensed dog breeders and brokers has dropped from 5,000 to less than 3,000.
But the key to passing these laws is evidence.
Legislators need to see irrefutable proof of what’s going on. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the animal mill lobby to muddy the argument and kill the legislation. This is why the thoroughness of our investigations is so critical. And it’s why we continue to need your help.
None of our nationwide efforts would succeed without your committed support. Millions of companion animals are currently suffering in inhumane breeding conditions. With your assistance, we can make real changes and put an end to this intolerable cycle of animal abuse.