Amish 'puppy mills' called inhumane

September 20, 1993|By New York Times News Service

GAP, Pa. -- Amos K. Stoltzfus is one of the bearded, straw-hatted Amish farmers whose 19th-century lifestyle has been romanticized nearly as often as the Amish horse-drawn buggies have been pictured on postcards and photographed by tourists here in Lancaster County.

But now animal rights advocates have accused Amish farmers like Mr. Stoltzfus of breeding dogs in a cruel way and flooding the market with puppies that are sometimes maladjusted and sick.

Pennsylvania dog officers and humane agents say they have found many Amish breeders who violate health, shelter and sanitary standards for kennels. And a national humane society has called for a consumer boycott of pet store puppies that come from Pennsylvania's commercial kennels, many of them Amish-owned.

The Amish, a reclusive Christian sect with roots in Germany, are by no means the only kennel operators who have been cited by the state. "Englishmen," as the Amish refer to most outsiders, have also been charged with violating state laws.

But the Amish in southeastern Pennsylvania have taken the lead in dog breeding in the last decade, opening up many, if not the majority, of the hundreds of new commercial kennels in the state and, in the process, taking business away from Midwest breeders.

The Amish have previously had scrapes with the outside world when the biblical laws that govern their lives clashed with local zoning or building codes, but these plain-living, gentle people have never been accused of anything that goes so much against their reputation as animal cruelty.

The crux of this matter is a clash of cultures. The Amish say they raise dogs much as they would other livestock, restricting the dogs to small cages and killing the parents when they are no longer productive.

Animal-rights advocates say the dogs need more human contact to be prepared for lives as family pets. And the idea of killing dogs when their breeding lives are over is repugnant to many dog lovers.

State and federal laws are silent on the moral questions, but they do mandate some things that some Amish consider unnecessary, like a minimum cage size.

"I personally think some of these animal-rights people are more concerned about dogs than their own children," said Mr. Stoltzfus, 56, as he gave a tour of his immaculate kennel behind a field of corn.

His 40 Doberman pinschers and Rottweilers, housed in a modern metal building, scampered about their caged pens and barked ferociously.

He sees nothing inhumane about his methods of dog breeding. And he dismisses criticism that a commercial kennel like his produces puppies with behavioral problems because the big kennels cannot give the puppies sufficient human contact.

He said he and his wife and two teen-agers work their 25-acre farm and spend time each day with the puppies, which number up to 25 at any one time.

Mr. Stoltzfus said he was not surprised that some Amish breeders have been cited repeatedly for badly mistreating their dogs: "You can have good and bad in any church."

The Humane Society of the United States, a nonprofit educational organization in Washington, first called attention to problems associated with mass-production breeding in Pennsylvania in 1991, when it called for a national consumer boycott of pet store puppies from Pennsylvania's "puppy mills," as the society calls them.

The boycott continues, with uncertain effect, against Pennsylvania and six other states with many commercial kennels -- Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma -- that the society had blacklisted in 1990.

In Pennsylvania, the worst kennels have breeding bitches that are old, sick or have defects, said Thomas Bougher, a supervisor in the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. "I don't like to pick out a particular group, but the Amish are a significant part of the problem," Mr. Bougher said. "Most people treat dogs as quasi-human, but a dog is the same thing as a chicken to them."

Last year, Mr. Bougher said dog wardens in several southeastern counties closed down about 30 commercial kennels, including many Amish ones, when the owners refused to comply with kennel laws.

Pennsylvania legislators proposed laws this year that would address the most egregious problems by providing money for more kennel inspections and by providing some consumer protections.

But no matter how much Mr. Stoltzfus and others adjust their large-scale breeding practices, they will never appease people like Dotsie Keith, who raises Dalmations in her Bucks County kitchen.

"Puppies have to be picked up, fondled, hear the TV and the vacuum cleaner and see the cat walking around," said Mrs. Keith, who is a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs. "You can't raise puppies in cages behind barns."

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