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Humane Society of Missouri receiving animals from areas affected by Hurricane Harvey

Paxton, a 1-year-old Labrador retriever mix brought in from Cara's House animal shelter in Sorrento, La., looks out from his new kennel at the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Workers from Cara's House drove through the night to deliver 19 dogs to the Humane Society in anticipation of flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri attorney general’s office has sued an Oregon County dog breeder after state inspectors docked the kennel repeatedly over the last two years for filthy conditions and thin dogs.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, said in a news release issued Thursday that Cedar Ridge Australians had continually violated the Animal Care Facilities Act and has been operating without a license since February.

“I have no comment at this time,” said a woman at the kennel who returned a reporter’s call. Marlissa McAlmond is listed in state records as the owner of the kennel and is the defendant named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction closing the facility until further notice. It also seeks civil penalties that could total several thousand dollars.

Schmitt’s office said inspectors with the Missouri Department of Agriculture in November 2017 found more than two dozen weaned puppies and adult dogs with thin bodies.

The attorney general’s office said that while some violations had been fixed, such as better record keeping and allowing a veterinarian on the premises, the majority of problems persisted.

In June 2019, inspectors found thin dogs, wounds and lesions, overcrowded shelters and muddy enclosures, according to a news release.

“These continued violations, as well as the absence of a license, show that Cedar Ridge Australians cannot responsibly breed or care for dogs,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Furthermore, irresponsible breeders like Cedar Ridge Australians cast a bad light on the responsible and law-abiding breeders across Missouri.”

In Schmitt’s press release, his office included quotes from two groups that are often at odds: the Missouri Pet Breeders Association and the Humane Society of Missouri.

“Cases like this are exactly why proper licensing and routine inspections are vital to pet breeders in Missouri,” Kevin Beauchamp, president of the pet breeders association, said in a statement.

“We hope this is the first of many proactive actions by the A.G.,” said Kathy Warnick, Humane Society president.

Indeed, animal welfare advocates had raised concerns in recent years over what they perceived as inadequate oversight over Missouri kennels following a voter-approved initiative in 2010 designed to crack down on bad breeders.

The law, which was amended by the Legislature, gave the Missouri Department of Agriculture the power to refer more breeders to the attorney general’s office, a provision seen as a way to force bad breeders into compliance.

But the Post-Dispatch reported in August that the Department of Agriculture had not referred any new breeders to the attorney general’s office since Nov. 23, 2015.

Before passage of the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act in 2011, the department could only refer operations that posed a “substantial ongoing risk to the health and welfare of animals” — a high bar that meant referrals were rarely made.

Now, the attorney general can sue and seek fines for any continuing violation of the Animal Care Facilities Act or the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.

In October, the attorney general’s office sued a Phelps County dog breeder after state inspectors noted 126 violations of animal welfare laws in two years.

The state settled the case with Pamela Baldwin, of Edgar Springs, Missouri, in May. As part of the settlement, Samples Creek Kennel must dismantle its outdoor kennels and comply with the Animal Care Facilities Act. 

Baldwin was fined $9,500, but was only ordered to pay $500 so long as she complies with the settlement. The settlement allows her to keep five outdoor kennels to house personal pets, and says she cannot purchase or accept any dogs or cats for six years for the purpose of resale or adoption.

It also says she must also seek a state license if she ever wants to sell dogs in the future.

The attorney general’s office said it now has four active cases against Missouri kennels: three against breeders and one against an animal shelter.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal court this month, alleging the federal agency had illegally loosened inspections to mask violations of animal welfare laws. A hearing in that case has yet to be scheduled.

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