Critters Legal, Laws, and Regs

The benefits of publicly accessible records

It is not difficult to make a digital copy of an inspection report. Most modern printers that make copies now have the ability to scan the copies into a PDF just as quickly as you can make the paper copy.

There is no reason for any agency, Missourian or otherwise, to not have digital copies of all their records. Not only does having digital copies of inspection reports decrease the need for paper, but it also ensures reasonable access of the records, as well as backup in case of fire, flood, and other disaster.

I have no idea what kind of information system the Department of Agriculture in Missouri has in place. I do know that, considering the interest people have in inspection records, the organization could more effectively deal with requests if it just provided the information via a simple to use online system. The USDA caught on to the advantages of such a system a few years back, which is why we can access so much USDA information online.

In fact, it’s easier to access information about Missouri agriculture at the USDA then it is to access information at the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

One major reason to allow better access to inspection records and other data online is that this is probably one of the most effective ways of shutting down bad commercial dog breeders.

Since the USDA simplified the process of accessing inspection records, several breeders have given up their USDA licenses. Frankly, they didn’t like the fact that everyone they knew could see that they’re too lazy to clean up the piles of feces, or that their dogs are sick or injured and not given care. You can see their hostility to the new public exposure in their recent treatment of USDA inspectors.

In December, 2010, when inspectors arrived at the infamous Mar-Don Kennels, they were not met with openness:

We began the inspection and, after finding non-compliant items in the first section of the outdoor housing, the licensee became upset.

The licensee stated, “I’m done with this crap, I’m giving up, I’m surrendering my license”, and stormed away entering the house. We followed the licensee and waited for her to come out of the house at which time she said could not find it (her license). At that point, ACI Jan Feldman asked her to write a statement stating that she no longer wanted to be licensed and she stated, “I am not signing or writing anything without my lawyer, I am done with you.” ACI Jan Feldman then informed the licensee that we would have to consider this as a refusal and that we would send her a copy of the report by certified mail. The licensee walked away. At 10:42 am we left the facility in an expeditious manner.

Marsha Cox wasn’t “done with this crap” because she was tired of getting written up for violations. She’s been written up for violations for years. However, thanks to the USDA making her inspection records public, and HSUS listing her operation in Missouri’s Dirty Dozen, all the dirty little secrets about her organization have been made public, for the world to see.

When Inspector Feldman visited David and Gloria Still’s business in Purdy, Missouri, David Stills actually became verbally abusive:

As we began the inspection of the third building exterior, the licensee (husband) became angry and challenging. When a non-compliant item (holes dug by the dog under a ramp) was pointed out, Mr. Still made the comment dogs dig. I agreed with him and asked Mrs. Still if she had some gravel around to address the problem. I mentioned that due to the location and deepness of the hole by the ramp, it was possible for the dogs to become injured. Mr. Still became immediately indignant and challenged my statement. His tone and body stance became more aggressive and angry.

I turned to Mrs. Still and told her if he continued in this manner I would consider it interference of the inspection and we would leave. Mr. Still then said angrily, You can just leave. He yelled that he did not need us to sell their puppies. Mrs. Still just stood there. He made a couple of other comments with a tone and manner that were very angry. I explained to Mrs. Still that since Mr. Still was on the license we would be leaving and would consider this interference and a refusal to allow inspection. I told her I would send her the report with the refusal and interference and our findings up to this point by certified mail. Mr Still made several very angry comments during my conversation with Mrs. Still such as You don’t own these dogs and You don’t own this property. We left the facility at that point in time. We were unable to complete the inspection due to interference of the licensee and the potential risk to our safety.

Both Marsha Cox and the Stills are still licensed with the state, and I am in the process of pulling state records for both. I will be curious to compare state records with federal records.

Though Cox and the Stills are still licensed with the state, James Holtkamp is not. On August 24, 2010, during a USDA inspection:

The licensee was verbally abusive and threatening to the inspectors. The licensee refused to allow an inspection. The licensee was uncooperative and used profanity when yelling at the inspectors. The licensee physically grabbed at the inspector’s arm and the state highway patrol officer had to intervene.

I’ll still submit a Sunshine Law request for past records for Holtkamp, to ensure that he’s no longer an operating kennel.

There is a simple option if people don’t want to be inspected by the USDA or the state: don’t go into a business that requires these inspections. The problem is for the last several years, there’s been little or no exposure of these large scale commercial breeders. In the past, the inspectors have been too close to the people inspected, and the breeders got away with numerous violations and inadequate care of the dogs. Now, the USDA at least, and hopefully the MDA are becoming stricter about enforcement. More importantly, though, is the fact that the bad operations are being exposed.

The breeders are angry—no more dirty little secrets. Hopefully, angry enough to quit, and save the state and the federal government the time and expense of closing them down.


Sunshine Law and FOIA requests

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

It’s a simple matter to check breeder inspections at the USDA since the agency provides a database of inspection reports for the last three years. The Department of Agriculture (MDA), however, does not make records easily accessible.

To access inspection records for a commercial dog breeder in Missouri, you have to make the request under the Sunshine Law act. You will be charged for copies and time, so you’ll want to restrict your requests to recent inspections only—2009 or later. As an indicator of costs, I was charged $5.60 for my request for recent inspection records for Rabbit Ridge.

An example email you can use for submitting a request for inspection records is the following:


This is a request for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, Revised Statutes of Missouri.

I request that you make available to me the following records:

Recent Missouri Department of Agriculture inspection reports (January 1, 2009 and later) for a commercial dog breeder, <breeder name>, operating a kennel known as <kennel name, if there is one>, with an address of <as much of the address as you know>.

I request that the records responsive to my request be copied and sent to me at the following address:

Emailed to me directly, if digital copies of the inspection reports exist, or if this would be convenient for your organization.

If email is not convenient, then mail paper records to:

<your address>

I request that all fees for locating and copying the records be waived. The information I obtain through this request will be used <request purpose>

Please let me know in advance of any search or copying if the fees will exceed <your upper fee amount>.

If portions of the requested records are closed, please segregate the closed portions and provide me with the rest of the records.

Thank you.

<your name>

The requests are sent to You can read more about the Sunshine Law at the Missouri Sunshine Law Summary page.

If you want information from the USDA outside of that already provided at the USDA web sites, you can file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the appropriate department. APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) is the department you’re most likely going to send the FOIA requests to. There are actually FOIA generation tools, and the USDA FOIA site provides helpful materials, as does the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Before you file a FOIA request, though, check out the USDA APHIS FOIA Reading Room, first, to ensure what you’re after isn’t already provided. You can access the USDA APHIA Inspection database, directly.

FOIA requests for the USDA APHIS should be sent to You may also be charged a fee for a FOIA request.

Both the MDA and the USDA have to respond within a set period of time. MDA must respond within three business days. The USDA typically tries to respond within twenty business days—at a minimum, acknowledging your request.

Note that FOIA requests to the USDA APHIS also become part of public record, and are published in an annual log.

Critters Government

The Dollarhite Saga

OK, this one baffles me.

The USDA sent a letter to the Dollarhites letting them off the hook for any and all fines, as long as the Dollarhites refrain from breeding animals for sale as pets. The Dollarhites got out of the baby bunny business in 2010, so this shouldn’t be a problem. They won’t have to pay one single penny in fines, so I don’t know how this can be a problem. However they, and a tiny assortment of Tea Party members, including a writer for the site, Big Government, are unhappy with the result.

Not only are they unhappy, but they seem to be personally targeting the USDA employee who sent the Dollarhites a letter.

I am assuming that the lawyer the Dollarhites hired has enough sense to know to grab the offer. I wouldn’t be unhappy, though, if the Dollarhites rejected the offer and the complaint went in front of a judge. A judge who, I want to add, is going to be peeved that they wasted his or her time by fighting an offer that basically lets them off without any penalties. No penalties, even though they violated the law for years by selling hundreds of rabbits as pets without the proper license and required animal care inspections.

Let’s say I doubt the Dollarhites would get off as easily.

It’s unfortunate, though, that a USDA employee was targeted just for doing her job. It’s also unfortunate that Senator McCaskill would seek to placate such unreasoning and, yes, scary people.

I realize that selling baby bunnies may not seem to be the same as selling puppies, but the USDA is chartered to care for all large scale pet sales in the country. Rabbits deserve a decent life, too.

The USDA responded to my FOIA request for materials related to the Dollarhite case with a note that they’ll need an extension of time. When I do receive the materials, I’ll post an update with copies.