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Humane Society takes in 135 dogs from S. Missouri

A Beagle/Boston Terrier mixed breed dog is held while it's claws are clipped on Wednesday morning, Feb. 26, 2014, at the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis. A Howell County breeder voluntarily surrendered 135 dogs to the Humane Society. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri attorney general’s office has asked a Phelps County circuit judge to shut down the Samples Creek Kennel in Edgar Springs, Mo., after state inspectors recorded 126 violations of animal welfare laws since June 2016.

On June 14, 2016, inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture told kennel owner Pamela Baldwin to seek veterinary care for three sick dogs, including a boxer with digestive problems and a Shiba Inu with hair loss. Inspectors found moldy feces next to a whelping facility, dead flies in drinking water, wet dog food and other violations.

Problems continued through 10 subsequent inspections over the next two years, Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, wrote in a lawsuit filed Tuesday. His office asks Circuit Judge William E. Hickle to order Baldwin to close down the operation until it is licensed. The facility’s license expired on Jan. 31.

The state also notes that Hickle can enjoin Baldwin from further violations of the Animal Care Facilities Act and assess a $1,000 civil fine for each inspection violation.

In addition to the inspections at Samples Creek Kennel, inspectors tried to enter the facility 23 times over two years but could not inspect because no workers were present, the lawsuit says.

Baldwin could not be reached for comment.

The Post-Dispatch reported in August that the state Department of Agriculture had not referred any dog breeders to the attorney general’s office since November 2015, despite a 2011 law making it easier to send violators of the state’s animal welfare laws to the state’s top law enforcement office.

“If the Department of Agriculture has stopped referring cases to the attorney general’s office, that means they’re basically not doing as much as they can be doing to enforce the law against bad actors,” asserted Jessica Blome, a former assistant attorney general who launched the Canine Cruelty Prevention Unit in the attorney general’s office.

Sami Jo Freeman, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said Baldwin was referred to the attorney general’s office on June 26, which had not been previously publicized. She added that another breeder, Marilyn Shepherd, of Ava, Mo., was referred to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 24. The attorney general’s office has not yet filed suit against Shepherd.

The 2011 Canine Cruelty Prevention Act — a rewrite of the voter-approved Proposition B in 2010 — increased standards for dog kennels in the state.

Dog breeders targeted by animal advocates and interviewed by the Post-Dispatch have characterized state inspectors as overbearing. They have said occasional injuries to dogs are unavoidable, and say inspectors and advocates exaggerate the severity of problems at the facilities.

In June, Bob Baker, of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, delivered a list of what he said were the worst six breeders to the attorney general’s office. Baldwin and Shepherd were on the list.

In 2010, there were 1,490 licensed breeders in the state of Missouri, according to the agriculture department. By 2015, that figure shrank 47 percent, with 785 licensed breeders left in the state.

As of August, the number of licensed dog breeders in the state had ticked up to 893, according to the agriculture department.

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