CAPS Investigator’s Journal: The Obermiller Kitten Mill

March 17, 2016
One kitten with an infected eye (far left), and others were fighting

I’m Pete, an undercover investigator for the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS). Pete’s not my real name, but protecting my identity is vital to our investigations of pet shops and puppy mills — and, as you’ll see from what I’ve written below, kitten mills.

You may have seen my work in the documentary CAPS vs. Bauck: How a Small Nonprofit Brought Down a Large Puppy Mill.” It detailed my undercover employment at Pick of The Litter, a Minnesota-based puppy mill run by notorious dog breeder/broker Kathy Bauck. The investigation led to her criminal conviction and the revocation of her USDA license. I have been to over 700 similar facilities for CAPS, obtaining the evidence and statements we use to take action, but there’s one particular place I recently visited that has me fuming: A kitten mill in Farwell, Nebraska.

Feces on the floor and litter boxes overflowing

It’s a USDA-licensed cat breeding facility run by Claudia Obermiller, where she produces kittens for the pet shop industry. When I was there, I saw twenty-five cats and fifteen kittens living in small cages and pens. The pens had food, water, and litter boxes, but the litter boxes were overflowing with feces. Urine stained the floors. Fur and dirt were everywhere. Obermiller even admitted to me that the place was a mess, saying, “I’m lucky you weren’t a state inspector because of the way those pens look. Or USDA.” But she also said that to properly clean the place was too much for her to handle.

The cats were in no better shape than their cages. There was an orange Persian with eyelids so swollen I couldn’t see her eyeballs. Another white Persian had swollen eyes with black grime on them. There were cats with matted fur, cats with filthy faces, and many cats sat in their litter boxes — likely the cleanest surface they could find.

Cat with infected eyes and a filthy face

All of these disturbing conditions are violations of the Animal Welfare Act.  But they are also, sadly, the norm in this industry, not the exception.

I contacted the Howard County Sheriff’s Department about Obermiller’s facility, and they sent out a deputy. But the deputy said he didn’t see any sick cats, and that he couldn’t seize any animals or charge Obermiller with a crime unless the animals were dying. The deputy seemed honest, but his misunderstanding of Nebraska state law was baffling. It’s also hard to understand his claim that he didn’t see any of the violations I had just witnessed.

So CAPS turned my undercover footage and reports over to the USDA. CAPS President Deborah Howard has been speaking directly to the assistant regional director of APHIS Animal Care’s Western Region, who seems committed to following up on our evidence. And our persistence is paying off. On February 3, 2015, the USDA fined Obermiller $5,000 and put her on probation for one year for failing to do the following: provide adequate veterinary care; clean and sanitize housing surfaces; maintain housing facilities in good repair; and have a responsible person present for USDA inspections. Her probation means that she can keep operating her facility, but she must not be caught violating the Animal Welfare Act for one year. During the probation, USDA will fine Obermiller $5,000 for every sick cat. A USDA Veterinary Medical Officer (VMO) inspector will be visiting Obermiller’s facility on a regular basis.

While we are pleased that the USDA took some action and greatly appreciated our evidence, a fine and probation are not enough. That’s why we are asking you to write to Bernadette Juarez, the new Deputy Administrator of APHIS/Animal Care, to demand that the USDA revoke Obermiller’s license. Your pressure will help bring about the legal action needed to protect these cats, and it will also help other animals suffering at kitten and puppy mills around the country.

Ms. Bernadette Juarez
Deputy Administrator
USDA/APHIS/AC
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD  20737
Bernadette.r.juarez@aphis.usda.gov

For as long as it takes, CAPS will keep investigating USDA-licensed facilities like Claudia Obermiller’s.  And we’ll keep gathering evidence until no more animals are suffering at the hand of the pet shop industry. Together, with your help, we’ll put an end to this inhumane cruelty.

For a more detailed account of my investigation, including video footage, visit this CAPS website url: here.

UPDATE:

Based on the horrible conditions we found, the USDA was forced to take action and Obermiller’s facility was closed.

More information:
Obermiller Consent Decision with USDA