Sixth Day Ranch
I am a lawyer with a penchant for animal legal issues. I have a client,
Stand Up For Animals, which contracts with Monroe County, Florida to provide
animal control services in the Middle Keys. I met the Director, Linda Gottwald,
several years ago when her organization took custody of a severely neglected
Macaw, and petitioned the court for permanent custody. Much to her surprise,
the previous owner of “Capper” hired an attorney to fight for
the bird. Ironic that he had money for a lawyer given that, in spite of
the fact that she was missing half her feathers, he had never once bothered
to take her to a vet.
The group needed legal representation and the County Attorney’s
office refused to back them up. Of course as a non profit they were not
rolling in money, but I agreed to help. The attorney that represented Capper’s
former owner did not ultimately succeed in getting the bird back for his
client, but he sure did succeed in getting the case dragged out longer
than I ever would have believed possible. Several false starts and trips
from West Palm Beach to Key West later the Judge finally ruled in our favor.
Capper has grown her feathers back and now lives in a free flight sanctuary
where she enjoys the company of other birds instead of in a barren, filthy
cage so small that she cannot flap her wings.
Stand Up For Animals has the luxury of being an almost no-kill shelter.
They are fortunate not to be completely overwhelmed with unwanted animals
like the Miami-Dade shelter 100 or so miles to the north, and other shelters
in the more populated South Florida counties. And while it is far from
luxurious, the shelter is always spotless, and Linda and her staff work
very hard to make the animals comfortable, healthy and happy.
Stand Up For Animals doesn’t get very many puppies,
so Linda is sometimes able to take litters from more crowded shelters.
Last summer I drove down with a litter of rescued puppies I had been fostering
that were at last old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted to good
homes. I had a law student working with me from Portland, Oregon, and she
had never been to the Keys. A friend of mine from high school was joining
us, and after delivering the puppies we were planning on snorkeling and
then an evening in Key West.
For me, it was not to be- the week of my trip I suffered an ulcerated
cornea and was told by my eye doctor no swimming and certainly no snorkeling.
So I had planned to hangout at the shelter while Mary and Julie snorkeled,
make myself useful or entertain myself by snuggling with some of the long
time resident cats that are always grateful for a little extra attention.
Linda asked if I would come with her to inspect “Sixth Day Ranch”,
a commercial breeder down the street from the shelter, and I was happy
to ride shot gun. Some neighbors had called in complaints about the warehouse
where a family in the dog selling business had recently set up their operation.
In order to discourage irresponsible backyard breeders, Monroe County
has an ordinance that requires breeders to register each litter and pay
a $50 litter fee. Linda had spoken with the mom of the family the day before
and told her she would be coming the next day to inspect the facility.
Mr. Jones met us at the door and explained that his wife was upset about
the inspection and threatening to go back to their previous home in the
Panhandle. During the course of the conversation Linda told him we have
a shelter full of dogs and the last thing the Keys needed was someone deliberately
creating more, but he explained that they sell their pups all over the
country using the internet, some for thousands of dollars. They needed
Sigh. As if that justifies intentionally adding more dogs to a world where
we kill them by the millions for lack of homes. After much conversation
and polite negotiation we are finally allowed inside, provided we wear
paper booties to keep out the germs Mrs. Jones is oh so sure we are carrying
from the animal shelter.
You would think with a 24 hour heads up about the inspection, the place
would have been ship shape. Or at least clean. The stench of ammonia was
apparent from when we walked in the door. Although there was an air conditioner,
it was not keeping the place even remotely cool. One door into a side room
is opened for us- revealing four large goldendoodle puppies-at least 4
months old, and several adult dogs, one of which is very pregnant. There
is a plastic swimming pool full of cedar chips. I am not sure if the dogs
were supposed to sleep in it or use it as a bathroom. I don’t think
the dogs were sure either. The room reeked.
In a room the size of a walk-in closet, 14 more puppies
are behind a baby gate. There is one small water bowl for 14 puppies. And
it is empty. Side door number 2 is opened to reveal six large adult dogs,
three standard poodles and three golden retrievers in a room maybe 5 x6.
There is urine on the floor, and the one window in the room is closed.
There is one small water bowl for the 6 large dogs and it is empty.
The room is hot and stuffy and the ammonia literally makes me gag. Side
door number 3, five or six more large adult dogs, in a similar sized room,
no ventilation. Side door number 4, five or six more dogs in an even smaller
I must admit for the most part the dogs were well fed, and while there
were certainly a few that need bathing or grooming, I have seen worse.
The Joneses protest that the dogs just spilled their water, or maybe drank
all their water, and that the puppies have no water because they splash
around it in and spill it.
“Of course they do” I think-“they are puppies and they
are hot”. Their tongues are all hanging to their knees as they pant
in the hot humid stinky air. Surely someone who claims to be a professional
breeder is smart enough to figure out how to secure a bucket of water so
that it cannot be overturned?
Linda and I are in semi shock. So many dogs shut in so
many tiny rooms. We confer. As the animal control agent for Monroe County
she has two options. She can seize the dogs and petition the court for
permanent custody, or leave them with the Joneses and make them subject
to an “order to
provide care.” I am fairly certain that if we go to court we will
win, but it is a serious thing to take someone’s animals, and where
the hell will we put all those dogs? On the other hand, even if we order
them to provide better accommodations for the dogs, they obviously do not
have the space to house them properly. Outside in the back yard of the
warehouse someone has erected a couple small chain link runs with two plastic
dog houses. It is too small for so many dogs, and it is on the pavement
with no shade from South Florida’s relentless July sun. Totally unsuitable.
We conclude there is simply no option other than to remove the adult dogs
to the shelter where they will at least be inside the air conditioning
or outside in the large shady fenced play yards. The puppies we will make
subject to an order to provide care: constant access to water, urine and
poop must not be allowed to accumulate, proper ventilation must be provided.
Linda goes to get a citation book so all of this is done properly. I stay
and spend what seems like an eternity awkwardly avoiding eye contact with
the Jones family. I don’t doubt that they felt some affection for
the dogs, but it was hard to reconcile that with the reality of the dogs’ circumstance.
How could they have possibly felt that it was ok to keep 22 adult dogs
shut in tiny rooms in a small stuffy warehouse? That a water bowl that
holds two cups was adequate for five or six big dogs? Did they not notice
the ammonia that was making me wretch?
Linda returns and writes a citation for a manner of keeping violations-other
staff arrive and we start taking the dogs out and loading them in the trucks.
Some are very shy, but most just seem happy for an outing. The dog in the
picture below was the worst. His mats were soaked with urine and he smelled
horribly. As I walk by with him to load him in the truck, Mrs. Jones tells
me she was waiting for him to put on weight before she groomed him. I am
I am also dumbfounded by what I find when I get back to the shelter and
google “sixth day ranch”. This is one of their ads:
“We offer quality canine companions to those special people
who will love and care for their new pet as much as we do. Each of our
dogs are an integral part of our family life and live in our home and
on our ranch. Our puppies are raised in our home and with TOO much love
and attention from our children (well and us grown up kids as well).
We believe in 100% nurture and raise each of our puppies as if they were
going to spend their lifetime with us. We practice the "Golden Rule" and
all of our puppies are guaranteed healthy and sold with health certificates.
We have many references available. Our number one goal is that we can
provide others with that same touch of gold in their life as we have
enjoyed for years with an emphasis on health and temperament. Check out
our web site for in depth information and photos of our dogs and puppies.”
Here is another:
“Sixth Day Ranch offers exquisite English, English/American,
and American GoldenDoodle puppies as companions to approved homes only.
We also offer a few English Golden Retriever and English/American Retriever
litters per year. Our dogs enjoy life
on the ranch with a spring fed lake to dip in and woods to romp through.
Our mama doggies all deliver their puppies in our home where they are
raised until they are delivered to their new families. Our dogs and puppies
are part of our family and are lovingly raised and enjoyed each minute
we have them. We offer a health guarantee, Florida state health certificate,
full vet exam, and age appropriate vaccinations.”
Much to my relief the next day Mr. Jones tells Linda
he will sign over all the adult dogs and the puppies if we let him keep
the one puppy that already has a buyer, and if he can avoid going to court.
No matter how strong your case is walking into court is always a crap shoot.
Linda hates to let even the one puppy go to an undetermined fate, but having
lost many animal cases I should have won I convince her that if someone
is paying top dollar for the puppy surely they will be able to take care
of it. She reluctantly agrees and I draft a quick release. When I go over
to the warehouse with Linda to get the release signed and pick up the puppies,
Mr. Jones tells me, in a tone strangely flat and absent of malice, that
we have ruined their lives, but that they are going to donate all of their
equipment to the shelter. I honestly don’t know whether to say sorry or thank
you. By the next day they the Joneses have packed up and left town.
When we seized the adult dogs the day before, the daughter asked if they
could keep the one female that was ready to whelp, and Linda agreed. When
we picked up the puppies the next day the momma had indeed given birth,
six teeny tiny babies and their momma come to the shelter with the other
18 puppies ranging from 3-4 months. Mr. Jones says we ruined his family’s
life, but I think we did them a huge favor. If they had 18 puppies older
than the 8 weeks at which puppies can legally be sold, and only one buyer,
business was obviously slow, and there were several more litters on the
way. Puppies are not like canned goods that can sit on the shelf until
a buyer comes along.
Linda miraculously managed to accommodate all
those dogs and puppies. The momma with newborns was quickly whisked off
to a quiet foster home, adult goldens and puppies enjoyed the freedom to
romp in a big play yard and take a dip in their new kiddie pools, filled
with cool water instead of cedar shavings. The poodles and adult doodles
were lounging happily in the AC.
Once news got out, there were plenty of adopters who were happy to rescue
a purebred golden or standard poodle or an adorable designer puppy. And
also once the news got out, we heard from people that had purchased puppies
from the Joneses in the past. Some that had been happy with their pups
were shocked to learn about the kind of outfit their puppy had really come
from. Now it made sense why the Joneses wanted to deliver the puppy to
them, or meet them somewhere other than at the “Sixth Day Ranch.” Others
that contacted us had been very unhappy because their puppies had genetic
problems that needed thousands of dollars worth of orthopedic surgery,
and were angry that the Joneses would not reimburse their vet bills or
otherwise honor the warranty they had given.
The circumstances at the “Sixth Day Ranch” are certainly not
unusual for commercial breeders, and in fact the dogs, even crammed into
over crowed small rooms were better off than the breeding stock at larger
commercial puppy farms, where a dog may spend her entire life in a cage
the size of a dishwasher.
As far as internet sales go, anyone can take some pictures
of a dog or some puppies in a clean, pretty place and post it on the internet-that
does not mean that the dogs are well cared for, only that they were clean
long enough for a picture to be taken. If you are not encouraged to stop
by and see the puppy and meet the parents- to see for yourself how many
dogs are there and how well they are cared for, you are not just supporting
an inherently cruel industry, you could be making a costly error by “ordering” a
puppy that will require extensive veterinary care. And when your puppy
arrives, sick or with a debilitating genetic problem like bi-lateral hip
dysplasia, as the Joneses' disappointed customers learned, you will
have a very hard time getting a single penny from an out of state breeder
that sells puppies online.