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Puppy-laundering ring: 'Warning bells should go off' if something doesn't seem right when buying a dog

“Warning bells should go off if someone is having to pay thousands of dollars for a pedigree puppy because most legitimate rescue groups typically charge a minimal fee.”

Posted: Mar. 19, 2019 11:37 AM
Updated: Mar. 19, 2019 1:38 PM

BRITT, Iowa - The Iowa Attorney General’s Office says it’s suing to shut down a puppy-laundering ring that operated partly in Hancock County. Some people say if it doesn't seem like it's being operated properly, it probably isn't.

“I received a couple of phones calls about a year and half ago asking if I had heard of the new rescue in Britt,” said Sybil Soukup the Executive Director of the North Iowa Humane Society.
Soukup said she was ecstatic to hear about a new rescue in the area helping the animal rights and  she did a little research on HOBO K-9 Rescue in Britt of her own.
“I was driving by Britt and I decided to drive down Main Street to see the shelter,” she said. “There was a sign on the door stating they are not a business that is open to the public.”
That sign has since been removed.

Iowa sues to shut down national puppy-laundering ring

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Attorney General's Office is suing to shut down what it describes as a national puppy-laundering ring that sells dogs from illegal breeding operations at inflated prices while pretending the animals are rescues.

The lawsuit filed Monday seeks an injunction to dissolve breeder J.A.K.'s Puppies, and nonprofits Hobo K9 Rescue and Rescue Pets Iowa Corp, Attorney General Tom Miller's Office said in a news release . The lawsuit also alleges four ringleaders — Jolyn Noethe, Kimberly Dolphin, Megan Peterson, and Russell Kirk — violated Iowa's consumer fraud act.

The operations sold almost 1,300 animals in California, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey for more than $700,000 from 2016 to 2018, the lawsuit said. None of the puppies — including Pomeranians, Shar-Peis, Alaskan Malamutes, Poodle-Yorkies — were re-homed in Iowa.

"No matter where they live, consumers should not be misled about the source of the pets they buy," Miller said. "Puppy laundering obscures the identity of breeders who may have animal welfare violations or other problems."

The state is seeking $40,000 in fines per violation, plus reimbursement to defrauded customers.

Kirk, who is the president of Rescue Pets, declined to comment to the Des Moines Register. Noethe, Dolphin, Peterson are all officers with Hobo K9 and J.A.K.'s. The newspaper was unable to reach them for comment.

J.A.K.'s acquired the animals from puppy mills then sold them to Hobo K9, which sold them for profit, the lawsuit said. Animal welfare groups say puppy mills are cruel; they breed the animals constantly and force them to live in cramped, often dirty conditions.

Miller's office began investigating the groups in June 2018, prompting the alleged ringleaders to create a "brand-new sham charity" called Rescue Pets Iowa Corp. in December last year, the lawsuit said.

The nonprofit's fees are "extravagant" and the animals being sold were all puppies, a vast departure from legitimate rescues that typically charge minimal fees and primarily offer older animals, the state said.

In-fact, there are no signs in the windows of 36 S. Main Street indicating there even is a rescue at that location.

However, the Iowa Department of Agriculture has done inspections and stated there were no animals on the premise in 2017.

That was a pretty big red flag for Soukup.

But the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said there are even more flags that need to be flying.
“Warning bells should go off if someone is having to pay thousands of dollars for a pedigree puppy because most legitimate rescue groups typically charge a minimal fee,” said Iowa Attorney Geranyl’s Office Spokesperson Lynn Hicks.
In the lawsuit, the AG’s Office claims J.A.K’s Puppies is also a part of the issue but finding that location isn’t easy. A listed address only shows a P.O. box. Searching the Hancock county Assessor’s Office and a Beacon property search came up with no results. So we turned to the non-profit “Bailing out Benji”. They started the investigation and turned their findings over to the Chicago Tribune. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office followed up with an investigation of their own.
“If people are interested in where their puppies are coming from they have a right to know,” said Hicks. In this case we are alleging that they are being deceived because they have secured the identity of the breeder. That’s why a lot of states like California and other government entities have banned the sales of these pets. You don’t want people coming to a pet store thinking they are buying a rescue dog when that is clearly not the case.”
As for Soukup, she said no matter what, people need to do their research before buying a new pet.
“There are a lot of people out there that are looking to break rules and do what they can to put wealth before welfare,” she said. “There are, however, reputable breeders out there that do care about their pets and that they get a nice home.”
Hicks said they have asked a judge to dissolve the non-profit and put an injunction on J.A.K.’s Puppies but until the judge can rule on the offer the companies can continue to do business.

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