Two Northeast Missouri breeders are categorized as puppy mills on the Humane Society of the United States' 2017 Horrible Hundred report released earlier this month.
Missouri has led the list the last five years it has been published -- having the most puppy mills when compared to other states.
Cornerstone Farms in Curryville and North River Kennel in Novelty were two of 19 Missouri breeders listed on this year's report. Cornerstone Farms is designated as a repeat offender and has made the Horrible Hundred list twice before, in 2014 and 2016. This is the first time North River Kennel has been listed.
The annual Horrible Hundred report is compiled using state inspection reports and those from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, USDA in February removed its online animal welfare reports for commercial pet breeders. Those reports, once viewable to the public, now may be accessed only through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The goal of the Horrible Hundred report is to "call on authorities to more closely monitor these and the thousands of other facilities across the country and also urge state legislators to pass stronger laws to protect dogs in puppy mills," the organization says on its website.
North River Kennel
Michelle Chrisman, an employee with North River Kennel breeder Michael Franke, explained that the Horrible Hundred listing developed out of a "bad political situation" with a USDA inspector.
"It's not what it appears like, and it's very unfair. Mike is very involved with the dogs and makes sure they go to classes. He takes care of the animals," Chrisman said.
"There are area breeders who I know don't take care of their animals and deserve to be on the list. Mike is well respected as a breeder here. The veterinarian (Franke takes his animals to) even backed him up and submitted records to show the animals are well cared for. But once it's printed on the list, you can't take it off, unfortunately."
Franke's website says he is a professional dog-show handler and breeder of quality pure breeds and designer "poo" breeds and has been for more than 25 years.
"Breeds all come with veterinary health certificates, a complete set of inoculations and routine dewormings," the website says. "(Franke) carefully plans each selective breeding. All of our wonderful puppies' mothers and fathers have been screened and certified free of one or more genetic defects. Our veterinarians oversee all socialization and health programs of our dogs to ensure only the finest and healthiest puppies are produced."
The Humane Society's Horrible Hundred list says puppies and dogs at the facility had open wounds and were kept in cages that were too small and that contaminated food was found.
"Most breeders don't make comments to reporters about this," Cornerstone Farms breeder Debra Ritter said. "It's (the Humane Society's allegations) a lie, and it's been a lie for years."
On the breeder's website, the family provides an article defending Cornerstone Farms against allegations of being a puppy mill.
In the article, it says the Ritter family has suffered financial hardship and physical threats because of the Humane Society's inclusion of Cornerstone Farms on previous Horrible Hundred lists.
"At one point, Cornerstone Farms had to contact the FBI and Homeland Security because the allegations made by the HSUS were picked up by an animal rights activist group who are labeled as terrorists by Homeland Security, known as the ALF.
"Individuals representing themselves of the ALF group made phone calls threatening to kill members of the Ritter family. ALF also threatened to burn down the Ritters' home and kennel in an effort to ‘free the animals.' All of this because the HSUS chose to publish a report that is admittedly destructive in its endeavor," the article said.
However, the Humane Society says a consumer allegedly had to pay $3,000 for veterinary care to nurse back to health a sick puppy purchased from the breeder. The Humane Society also says it found state violations for underweight, sick and injured dogs.
Cornerstone Farms advertises on its website that it has sold various breeds to people living in every U.S. state except Hawaii and eight countries or U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Italy.
No breeder in Illinois was included on the 2017 Horrible Hundred list.