TARGET 8: Complaints against dog breeders released, questions remain
COLUMBIA - One hundred and sixteen Missourians filed complaints through Operation Bark Alert in 2014. Of those, 15 were in the mid-Missouri area. Those complaints are intended to help identify problem breeders and kennels in the state, but KOMU 8 News found it is difficult to know how the program works and how or if those complaints are dealt with.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture implemented Operation Bark Alert in 2009 and claims to have shut down more than 160 unlicensed breeders since then. The online reporting form allows anyone to report suspicious behavior that should be investigated.
The Department declined to do an interview with KOMU 8 News to explain the program but, after weeks, did share the filed complaints from the past year. Below is a map showing where each of the complaints originated. The complaints are in their original form and were not edited by staff at KOMU 8 News. Click on the red pins to see the name of the breeder or kennel and the specific complaints against them.
Because the Department of Agriculture declined an interview about the program and processes involved, KOMU 8 News cannot verify whether or if the complaints filed were investigated or substantiated.
Lisa Green, one of the people a complaint was lodged against in 2014, said she was never contacted by the department about the complaint, and further tells KOMU 8 News she is neither a breeder nor a kennel, but rather an animal rescuer.
After hearing of the complaint listings given to KOMU 8 News by the department, Green of Centralia said, "The report said that I was taking dogs without collars from the Centralia, Missouri area, and I was posing as a Central Missouri Humane Society employee. The report said I had taken a dog that did not have a collar and would not return the dog. This incident never happened nor have I received any contact from the Department of Agriculture regarding this situation."
The complaints submitted to the Department of Agriculture are normally not published, a fact that one Columbia dog owner finds confusing.
"I think it's something that needs to be made public, just because it's a red flag that's set off, and if you're not familiar with a breeder you're able to read these reviews or past records of things you didn't like about them, then it would just narrow down where you want to buy your puppy from," Chelsea Spalt said.
She purchased her new puppy through a breeder near Troy, Missouri and said she trusted them due to a family member's recommendation.
"They gave me a whole pamphlet of all this information including how and when to feed the puppy," Spalt said. "She was all up to date on her shots which made us feel really comfortable and she also came with a free vet visit, and so if there were any issues we could take her in."
Ken Storla and his wife Christina Storla are licensed breeders in Fulton, Missouri. They currently have no complaints against them.
"The dogs are our lives, they're our family," he said.
Storla has been raising Rottweiler puppies since 1991 after an injury left him unable to work. He said it's important to determine if a breeder is legitimate before purchasing a puppy.
"What you want to look for is if their name, address, phone number, and everything is at their home and they're verified in some way, shape, or form by the Better Business Bureau, by NextDayPets, by whatever source they're using," he said. "Go to the people's home and inspect the puppies. I allow anyone to come over here anytime, just call first because I may have a Rottweiler running loose, but come over look at the puppies, if they don't want you to come over or there's problems that you see, walk away."
An inspector from the USDA visits Stola's residence about once a year to regulate his breeding business. But Storla said some breeders in the state, who aren't following regulations and haven't been reported, are sliding by.
"Somebody should do something about it, either law enforcement, the USDA, Bark Alert, something needs to be done about it," Storla said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from a person a complaint was filed against who said she was not contacted by the Department of Agriculture when the complaint was filed. KOMU 8 News will be following up with the Department of Agriculture for comment on the particular complaint.
If you would like to reach the Target 8 team regarding complaints listed in this story map and for possible inclusion in a follow-up story, please email Target8@KOMU.com to connect with our reporter.