Largest puppy mill in the country closes down

On Saturday, Best Friends coordinated with several other animal welfare organizations to shut down Whispering Oaks Kennels, one of the country’s largest puppy mills located in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Poor conditions at Whispering Oaks puppy mill

It was a long time coming --- Whispering Oaks has been around since 1961. The fact that currently, more than 1,000 dogs, mostly dachshunds, were being bred and sold to other breeders and puppy mills wasn’t enough to close the place. The fact that these animals were living in crowded cages in less than optimal conditions didn’t offer a strong enough case, either. No, it took a lot of work from several animal welfare agencies and law enforcement officials to finally close the kennel doors forever.

Animal rescue groups work together

For years, the Humane Society of Parkersburg wanted nothing more than to close Whispering Oaks Kennels, but because of the lenient state breeding laws, nothing legally could be done. News of an injured dog on the property garnered a warrant to search the premises. When the authorities confronted the owner on the conditions of the animals, she agreed to surrender all the dogs in exchange for a walk on animal cruelty charges.

The team from Best Friends along with members of HSUS, United Animal Nations and the Humane Society from Parkersburg waited for hours off-site before receiving the green light to begin their rescue efforts. Best Friends Rapid Response Manager Richard Crook said by working together, they were able to accomplish a great deal in a short period of time.

Saving puppy mill dogs

"In just 48 hours, we all worked as a team to remove 927 animals from their lives of misery," notes Rich. "This operation is testament to what we can accomplish when organizations put politics aside and work together for a common cause. Let’s hope this sends a chill down the spines of all the puppy mills out there."

The Best Friends team landed in West Virginia on Friday. The warrant was served on Saturday to have all the animals removed from Whispering Oaks Kennels by Sunday afternoon. Best Friends Puppy Mill Campaign Specialist Kelli Ohrtman said she and the other members of her team were "quite busy" over the weekend.

"I handled hundreds of dogs on Saturday," notes Kelli. "This has been a huge undertaking and we needed to make sure we’re doing this right, but also quickly."

Before the dogs could leave the breeder’s property, each dog needed to be photographed in his/her cage, then picked up one at a time, collared and ID’d. Kelli said many of dogs simply shut down and froze when handled. Others fought out of fright.

But others wagged their tails furiously and couldn’t wait to be picked up to lick a friendly face.

"These are the dogs that broke my heart," she says. "Because you know they know they’ve been missing something important in their lives. At least now they’ll have a chance."

The dogs have been moved to a temporary shelter where they are currently receiving vaccines and undergoing medical examinations. Once they’re giving a clean bill of health, the job shifts to finding homes for all the animals.

Puppy mill business

No one had ever been allowed onto the property, even when the owner (who, for legal reasons must remain nameless) was conducting business. She would meet buyers down the hill away from the kennels. But mostly, she sold the dogs over the internet through ads in Dog Fancy magazine local classified ads, Puppyfind.com, Kijiji.com, and dogchannel.com. Many dogs were sold to other breeders and puppy mills who then sell the dogs to pet stores, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

"This is why we keep trying to impress upon people why it’s so wrong to buy dogs in pets stores and over the internet," notes Kelli. "If we could take away the demand, we could shut these operations down permanently."

A grateful community

Kelli claims she "can’t go anywhere in town without being accosted." But in a good way. Instantly recognizable by the Best Friends T-shirt, Kelli says people come up to her all the time to thank Best Friends for helping their community.

"The lady at the coffee shop handed me a donation," she says. "I was walking down the street and this man ran up to me and gave me $40 and then ran away. People are so grateful and are so happy to see this place finally get shut down."

Please support Best Friends’ efforts to shut down puppy mills.

Photos by Clay Myers