Covid-19 and Puppy Mills

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Copyright Bailing Out Benji 2020 

All research was done by Bailing Out Benji and must be cited as such. 

Written by Mindi Callison, Founder and Executive Director of Bailing Out Benji. 


While the pandemic has shut most of the world down, it came as no surprise to us that the pet store and puppy mill industry was still booming. Pet stores were deemed essential and, because of that, puppy-selling stores found room to keep importing and selling puppies to the public. Due to the sheer number of stores that were still open, we filed FOIA requests with the Department of Agriculture in Iowa, Missouri and New York to see just how many puppies were being sold to states that had been hit the hardest by Covid-19. 

Keep in mind: we did a limited FOIA request on puppies coming into the hotbed states leaving only Iowa and Missouri. This is not the full amount of puppies leaving or entering these states during the pandemic and does not reflect all pet store imports across the country. 

The records we obtained show that 878 puppies left Missouri and 1103 puppies left Iowa during a six week period from the end of February to the end of March. This means that almost 2,000 puppies left MO and IA and traveled to pet stores in New York, Washington, New Jersey, Idaho and California. 

Picture taken by the Paramus Police Department after 67 puppy mill puppies were rescued from an unmanned van parked in freezing temperatures. 2016

Why is this concerning?

For weeks, government and health officials have been telling the public to limit their travel and only go out for essential items in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses have been closed, families have been put out of work, all for the greater good to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Puppy mills, puppy brokers and pet stores have no issue disregarding public health in order for profit.

These weekly transports from the Midwest traveling to the hotspot states are not only non-essential, but they are dangerous. For puppies leaving Missouri and heading to New York, the transport drivers cross 7 states and drive for almost 20 hours (approx. 1,243 miles) . For puppies leaving Iowa and heading to Washington, the transport drivers cross through 5 states and drive for 26 hours (approx. 1,672 miles). These times do not include the drivers stopping for gas, food, to sleep or to make stops at puppy stores along the way. This reckless behavior puts countless people at risk from the citizens they encounter on the way, to the employees and customers of these puppy-selling stores. It is also extremely important to note that Midwest states like Iowa and Missouri are behind the slope of the Covid-19 crisis, meaning the states have not yet reached their peak and cases are climbing each day. The transport companies and puppy mills are putting Midwest citizens at a higher risk for contracting the disease by bringing it back from these hotbed states.

Puppies for sale in a pet store

New York State

New York has been the hardest hit area for Covid-19 in the United States, with 319,000 positive cases and nearly 20,000 deaths. This did not prevent nearly 50 New York puppy-selling stores from importing 1,121 puppies from Iowa and Missouri during the peak coronavirus times. These weekly transports brought on average 186 puppies to all of these stores. Our volunteer team filed complaints with the New York Attorney General and the Governor of New York State and while pet sales are not considered essential, there is no order preventing these stores from importing from Midwest states. To view our breakdown of NY stores and the puppy mills they buy from, click here

Washington State

Washington State had the first known case of the coronavirus in the United States and citizens have been on strict orders to stay at home to prevent the spread. Even though the state has over 15,462 confirmed cases and 841 deaths, the puppy-selling stores still chose to keep their doors open and import 433 puppies from Iowa and Missouri. Our volunteers filed complaints with the Washington State Auditor who deemed puppy-sales nonessential and encouraged us to file complaints with the local agencies. Both the Pierce County Animal Control and the Olympia Police Department agreed with the Auditor and encouraged the two pet stores to stop selling puppies. The stores have defied those orders and are continuing to do business as usual. Since being ordered to close, Puppyland and Puppyworld have imported 105 additional puppies into their stores. To view our research on Washington pet stores and the puppy mills they buy from, click here.

New Jersey

New Jersey is another hotbed state for the coronavirus, with positive cases totaling 128,000 so far and 7,910 deaths. These high numbers are not enough to stop 17 pet stores in the state of New Jersey from importing 227 puppies from Iowa and Missouri in the month of March. We filed complaints with the New Jersey Attorney General regarding these dangerous cross-country transports but there is no order deeming this practice as nonessential. To view our research on the New Jersey pet stores that source puppies from puppy mills, click here


California citizens have been on “safe at home” orders for several weeks now, because their positive cases have reached over 55,000. Many businesses were ordered to close in order to protect Californians, but the puppy-selling stores chose not to comply. Which isn’t surprising to us because many of these stores have been involved in the puppy-laundering scheme wherein they break the state law by selling puppy mill puppies under the guise of “rescue”. Our research into these Covid-19 transports proved very interesting for us. Not only are the stores putting themselves and their customers in danger by importing almost 100 puppies and having transport companies drive 26 hours through 7 states, but they are buying directly from puppy mills, which is against state law. Our volunteers filed complaints with the California Governor’s office who deemed puppy sales as nonessential and ordered those businesses to close! Because we have solid proof these stores are breaking California State law, we are also working on enforcement of the law and making sure these stores are properly fined.


Outside of the FOIA request we filed, we also received records on one pet store in the state of Idaho. Our records show that the pet store in Meridian imported 131 puppies during the pandemic and all of those puppies came from JAKS puppies, the puppy broker that was investigated for charity fraud by the state of Iowa. While their fake rescues were ordered to close down and were fined, JAKS is operating as usual and is still shipping puppies all over the country during the pandemic.

The minimum cage requirements of puppies or dogs in USDA facilities is 6 inches around the body. This image is from the USDA site.

The Puppy Mills

On top of tracking which pet stores the puppies are going to, we keep diligent records on which breeders the dogs came from. Again, it was no surprise to us that some of the worst puppy mills in the nation were the facilities who were sending puppies to those hard-hit states. More than 100 facilities in Iowa and Missouri sent puppies to the states mentioned above. Many of them have hundreds of adult breeding dogs and a history of violations. 

Tiffanie’s LLC, a dog broker out of Frankford, Missouri, was one of those sending facilities. Owner Tiffanie Kurz was named a Horrible Hundred Puppy Mill in 2019 after a state inspector found that 35 puppies at her facility had died of Parvo in a six month period. Tiffanie’s LLC supplies puppies to pet stores in at least 11 different states, including almost 500 puppies to stores in the states mentioned above during the height of the coronavirus. 

JAKS Puppies, is a 2019 Horrible Hundred Puppy Mill and they were recently investigated and sued by the Iowa Attorney General. JAKS sent upwards of 600 puppies to pet stores in states hit hard with the coronavirus. This puppy broker also sells to pet stores in at least 12 states. 

The Transport Companies

The biggest focus of this piece is that these cross-country transports are not only nonessential, but they are putting countless people in danger because of the coronavirus. Some might argue that the transport companies have protocols they follow regarding cleanliness and sanitation, but history proves that isn’t the case. Not only have many of these puppy mill transport companies made the news because of their lack of care for the puppies in-transit, but they have also been in trouble with the USDA and have been named Horrible Hundred Puppy Mills. 

Hakuna Matata Transports out of New Sharon, Iowa is owned and operated by notorious puppy mill owner Debra Pratt. Pratt had her USDA breeding license revoked after 19 pages of violations. After that, she auctioned off more than 200 dogs, many of whom tested positive for the very contagious disease, brucellosis. Shortly after, the USDA allowed Pratt to start a transport company and house puppies at her facility. Hakuna Matata Transports makes weekly trips to deliver puppies to these hotbed states at the height of the coronavirus. 

Puppy Travelers, owned by Kallie and Josh Bateman, is another transport company that has been in hot water because of their transport practices. In 2018, 24 puppies had to be rescued from their transport vehicle after investigators found them in small cages covered in urine and feces. They were headed to Petland stores in Florida. Puppy Travelers operates under at least 11 different company names and were listed as a Horrible Hundred Puppy Mill in 2018. While they supply puppies to pet stores in 11 states that we have record of, they are making weekly transports to states hit hardest by the coronavirus. 


On March 27, 2020 the USDA sent out an email to their stakeholders, stating that they would no longer being holding normal inspections and licensed facilities across the country due to the coronavirus. The only way they would inspect a facility is due to a “serious animal welfare concern.” Our volunteers emailed the USDA to see if they were going to temporarily stop cross-country companion animal transports for the same reason, and we did not receive a response.

In Closing

Our volunteers not only worked tirelessly to comb through these records so we can share the data with you, but we also filed numerous complaints across the country to try and stop these practices. In the state of Colorado, for example, there was an order in place that stopped all importation of companion animals. While rescues and shelters followed the order, almost every Colorado puppy-selling still imported puppies from other states. All of the stores were reported to local agencies and were ordered to stop importing puppies. Note: the import order and since been lifted. Pet stores in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Texas and other states are all still importing and selling puppies to the public– even during this pandemic.

It isn’t a surprise to us that these businesses do not care about the health or well-being of their customers or employees during a pandemic. Many of these puppy-selling stores have been linked to the zoonotic disease, Campylobacter, which passes from puppies to humans. Campylobacter has caused hospitalization in some people and prompted a CDC investigationinto the stores where numerous people tested positive for the disease and became ill. These CDC investigations are still ongoing, as more customers and employees are coming forward after becoming infected with the disease. 

At this time, there is no way of tracking how many people have or will contract the coronavirus due to coming in contact with these puppy-selling stores or the transport companies involved. 

In order to help the dogs trapped in puppy mills, we have to keep educating consumers on where to humanely acquire pets. Buying through a pet store or an online website that ships to you is the quickest way to support this cruel industry.  Learn more about puppy mills and what we are doing to fight and expose them here

Written by Mindi Callison, Founder and Executive Director of Bailing Out Benji. 

Copyright Bailing Out Benji 2020 

All research was done by Bailing Out Benji and must be cited as such. 

Bailing out Benji is a small nonprofit organization that makes big changes with very few resources. Our research is used by the leading animal welfare organizations across the country, because what we do is so unique and important.  To make a one time donation or to sign up to be a sustaining supporter to allow us to continue our various programs that expose the puppy mill industry, click the donate button below.

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