Today, multiple media outlets in St. Louis, including the Post-Dispatch, reported that the Chesterfield Mall had canceled its agreement with a rescue group that was scheduled to open a new adoption center there this Saturday.
More than 100 comments from dog lovers in the community were posted inside of about seven hours, expressing, mostly, confusion. As one commenter wrote: “There is obviously a lot more than the article is saying if the people felt so strongly about the shelter.”
That commenter is right. Here’s the backstory—which should be a lesson to us all about retail pet stores and the types of merchants that we want offering dogs for sale in them, whether those merchants are breeders or rescuers.
What the Public Was Initially Told
In late December, St. Louis media outlets including the Post-Dispatch ran articles about Diana’s Grove Dog Rescue, saying the nonprofit from rural Cabool, Missouri, had gotten in over its head. The story reported to the public was that a Petco near St. Louis had terminated the group’s adoption events after receiving consumer complaints about sick dogs, including one that died a few days after adoption. Diana’s Grove, without the retail space, had an overflow of homeless dogs. The Humane Society of Missouri took more than 100 of them, making the crisis appear short-term.
At least in part because of the way that story was reported by multiple media outlets, nearly 150 people, in a matter of weeks, donated more than $9,000 on GoFundMe to help Diana’s Grove.
And on January 15, media outlets reported that thanks in part to those donations, Diana’s Grove was resuming operations January 21, in new retail space in the Chesterfield Mall.
The stories were mostly positive; for instance, the Post-Dispatch described the group as “bringing its mission” to the St. Louis area.
But all of the media outlets failed to report what has long constituted normal operations at the Diana’s Grove kennel in Cabool, where the dogs live outside the public eye before they are brought to St. Louis-area retail stores.
The Unreported Story
The truth is that Petco, just before Christmas, was not the first store near St. Louis to give Diana’s Grove the boot in 2016; Petsmart also did so, last spring.
In the recent media coverage, Cynthea Jones, founder and director of Diana’s Grove, is quoted as saying, “I truly don’t know why Petsmart decided to terminate us.”
But the Diana’s Grove Facebook page, in a May 19, 2016, post, makes clear why Petsmart acted: “Petsmart Charities informed us that they were in receipt of a copy of a Department of Agriculture report from November 2015. Due to certain issues reported on the inspection form, we were suspended from Petsmart, pending resolution.”
Here is the Missouri Department of Agriculture report from November 2015:
As you can read in the documents above, the state inspection report issued November 4, 2015—with Jones’ name at the top—is disturbing. It describes previous warnings for the nonprofit to fix rusted enclosures; floors and walls so worn they no longer stopped moisture; dogs exposed to broken and jagged metal; and at least one enclosure too small for the dog inside (a Beagle lacked 6 inches of headroom).
That report also identified new problems: a kennel support post chewed in two; doghouses with no protection from wind and rain; and dogs again exposed to sharp edges.
Perhaps most distressing was the citation for approximately 7 litters of puppies, some younger than 1 week old, living outside without adequate bedding for warmth.
The November report also listed citations for inadequate veterinary care. They included dogs brought across state lines to Missouri from Arkansas without proof of a rabies vaccine, and dogs cited for health problems some five months earlier, still with no documented treatment.
Citations that Went Back Years
That report was one among at least 11 the state issued for Diana’s Grove between 2014 and 2016, most containing citations (and all published at the bottom of this blog post). And with that November report, the state issued an Official Letter of Warning to Diana’s Grove, stating that the group had repeatedly violated the Animal Care Facilities Act. It was one of at least three Official Letters of Warning issued to Diana’s Grove for repeat violations between 2014 and 2016 (also published at the bottom of this blog post).
Problems cited in the 2015 letter included “several of the dog houses chewed to the point that they no longer provided sufficient shelter for the dogs.”
Here is that 2015 Official Letter of Warning:
Possibly most noteworthy, given recent media coverage, is the state’s July 28, 2014, report. The stories last month in St. Louis media described recent problems at Diana’s Grove as short-term, involving too many dogs because of a backup caused when Petco ended the group’s adoption events in December.
But in fact, having too many dogs is a problem the state first cited with Diana’s Grove two and a half years ago. The July 2014 inspection report states that Jones “needs to immediately start reducing her inventory of animals.” Here is that report:
Back then, when the state said Diana’s Grove had to start reducing its number of animals, the group had 276. During the recent incident, Diana’s Grove had amassed about 350, according to the Post-Dispatch.
And the group’s announcement about its new St. Louis retail space at the Chesterfield Mall promised to bring about 85 dogs per week:
Rightful Outcry from the Welfare Community
This is why so many people from within the St. Louis animal-welfare community contacted the Chesterfield Mall and threatened a boycott, calls that resulted in today’s announcement that the mall changed its mind and will not go forward with the group restarting its adoption events in St. Louis this Saturday.
The welfare advocates who took that stand should be highly praised. Far too often, the political divide between rescuers and breeders leaves “welfare advocates” crying foul only when a breeder is issued inspection reports and Letters of Warning of this nature. There’s no doubt that if Diana’s Grove had been a breeder, with these kinds of inspections, “puppy mill” protesters would have been at Petsmart and Petco long ago. So three cheers for the welfare advocates who called out a rescue organization with similarly questionable inspection reports, and for Petsmart and Petco taking action when they realized something might be wrong. That’s what it means to look out for the dogs.
The Diana’s Grove story is a powerful example of why it’s time for the “adopt, don’t shop” mentality to evolve, and for us to seriously reconsider the current legislative strategy of requiring pet stores to welcome only rescuers instead of breeders. So far, more than 180 municipalities have enacted such laws. It’s highly unlikely that lawmakers, in enacting such bans, realize that they might be encouraging, and even legally mandating, retail pet stores to work with rescue groups whose business practices might be questionable.
Not all breeders are devils, and not all rescuers are angels. The last thing the dogs need is us banning the better breeders from retail pet stores while welcoming questionable rescuers.
Welfare advocacy and legislation should be about one thing and one thing only: the dogs. Whether it’s a rescue group or a breeder offering dogs for sale in a retail pet store of any kind, the goal should always be to make sure the dogs are healthy, happy and safe.
Want to learn more about the business of dog breeding and rescue? Get your copy today of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.”
Missouri Department of Agriculture inspection reports and Official Letters of Warning issued to Diana’s Grove Dog Rescue between October 2014 and May 2016: