Lawsuit alleges that sham rescue groups ship dogs out of state to circumvent puppy mill laws
DES MOINES — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a lawsuit Monday to shut down an alleged puppy-laundering ring, including dissolving two “pet rescue” non-profits accused of exporting designer dogs from Iowa to pet shops in other states.
The petition in equity filed in Polk County District Court alleges that one of the non-profits, Hobo K9 Rescue of Britt, sold at least 1,290 puppies to eight different entities in California, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey, from September 2016 to July 2018. The puppies — including Pomeranians, Shar-Peis, Alaskan Malamutes, Poodle-Yorkies and other breeds — were allegedly sold for $714,510.
Puppy laundering is the practice of using non-profit rescue groups to obscure the source of dogs, deceive consumers and circumvent “puppy mill” bans. California and Chicago, for example, have banned the commercial sale of some pets obtained from sources other than animal control shelters or rescue groups.
“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.”
In addition to Hobo K9 Rescue, the lawsuit names as defendants:
- Rescue Pets Iowa, a non-profit based in Ottumwa;
- J.A.K.’s Puppies, a for-profit breeder based in Britt;
- Jolyn K. Noethe of Britt, president of Hobo K9 as well as co-president, secretary and director of J.A.K.’s Puppies;
- Kimberly Dolphin of Britt, treasurer of Hobo K9, as well as co-president, secretary and director of J.A.K.’s Puppies;
- Megan Peterson of Wesley, a manager with J.A.K.’s Puppies and secretary of Hobo K9;
- Russell Kirk of Ottumwa, president, secretary, treasurer and director of Rescue Pets Iowa.
The AG’s office asks a judge to permanently dissolve Hobo K9 Rescue and Rescue Pets for abusing their authorities under Iowa’s nonprofit laws. The office also requests a temporary injunction prohibiting the defendants from any business or charitable activities involving the transfer of animals, and a permanent injunction against deceptive practices. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties for up to $40,000 per violation and reimbursement for defrauded consumers.
Miller’s office has been investigating the puppy-laundering ring since June 2018. In response to a subpoena from the AG’s Consumer Protection Division, Hobo K9 said: “Our mission is to help unwanted or undesirable canines and/or felines find their forever homes.”
But the AG’s investigation allegedly shows that Hobo K9 sold pure-bred puppies, not older dogs, to out-of-state pet shops. In one case, Park Pet Shop in Chicago "adopted out" a “rescued” Goldendoodle puppy from Hobo K9 for $3,599.99, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hobo K9 transferred money to J.A.K.’s to pay for the puppies. “Because Defendants Noethe, Dolphin and Peterson are officers in both Defendant Hobo K9 Rescue and Defendant J.A.K.’s Puppies, it appears they must claim to ‘rescue’ puppies from themselves — or from the for-profit puppy mill industry in which they participate,” the lawsuit says.
After the AG’s office began investigating, the defendants started a “brand-new sham charity” called Rescue Pets Iowa Corp. in December 2018, according to the lawsuit. AG investigators obtained certificates of veterinary inspections from the Iowa Department of Agriculture that show Rescue Pets have exported several purebred and designer puppies to California and other states. Those documents contain the signature of Noethe, showing a link between Rescue Pets and the other defendants.
California’s statewide ban on the sale of “puppy mill dogs went into effect Jan. 1, 2019, yet defendants continue to ship their “rescue” dogs to California using sham entities, the lawsuit alleges.
Is it really a rescue dog?
The practices of the nonprofits named in the Iowa AG’s lawsuit allegedly differ markedly from those of typical rescue groups. In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, Tom Colvin, the CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, said legitimate canine rescues generally:
- Do not expend the time and resources necessary to transport dogs to new owners hundreds of miles away to make profits;
- Primarily offer older dogs, not designer and pure-bred puppies not in need of shelter, care and adoption;
- Do not expend the time and resources necessary to provide “pedigrees” to new owners;
- Spay or neuter dogs to prevent for-profit breeding;
- Accept donations from the public to offset the costs of their work and to fund programs to reduce the number of animals being surrendered;
- Charge minimal fees associated with shots and other essentials. “In no event would dogs from legitimate rescues within Iowa be consistently transferred to new owners for fees of any kind more than $1,000,” Colvin said.