When the reports first started trickling in on mailing lists, no one could believe it. “You can’t do that in America!” some cried, seemingly unaware that search and seizure without a warrant was rapidly becoming part of the arsenal of weapons at the disposal of animal control across the country.
This rumor, however, seemed pretty over the top – was Louisville Animal Control really engaging in something called the Newspaper Puppy Sting?
Put simply, Louisville Animal Control finds puppy for sale ads, shows up posing as a buyer, and then calls in law enforcement back up which then confiscates all the dogs in the house, alters them while in custody (irregardless of whether they are ten time best in show winners or backyard bred mixed breeds), and then charges the breeder exorbitant fines and penalties.
Now, it seems, some Louisville area dog breeders are fighting back – in a court of law.
A recent letter was posted from a law firm representing some of the targeted dog breeders. The letter’s author, Attorney Jon L. Fleischaker, makes it clear that this is an illegal venture, and that it will be both fought and protested.
In my experience, cowardly City departments almost always back down when faced with legal challenges like this – their dirty actions can’t stand up to the light of day. A little too late for those who’ve already lost their entire breeding programs, of course.
Of special note is the section where Attorney Fleischaker blatantly insinuates that this is cash grab on the part of the City Animal Control, saying:
It may be the case that this new enforcement effort results in ancillary “benefits” to LMAS in the form of revenue raised from selling the seized puppies to the public as adopted animals or extracting high fees from people to “reclaim” his or her animals.
Of course that’s what it is – isn’t it almost always about the money? It certainly isn’t about animal welfare – it can’t even be said to be about animal rights.
The entire letter is as follows –
March 18, 2009
As you know, this law firm represents several entities and individuals currently involved in litigation with Louisville Metro Government (“the City”) concerning the legality of Louisville’s animal ordinance. The purpose of this letter is to notify the City of what appears to be a new, and likely an illegal, practice of Louisville Metro Animal Services (“LMAS”) relating to the sale of puppies.
From what we have learned, it appears that LMAS has recently been using questionable law enforcement tactics in an effort to enforce a provision of the animal ordinance in circumstances where it is not even applicable. The apparent targets of this effort are animal owners engaged in the occasional sale of puppies — a perfectly legal and unregulated practice.
One of LMAS’s typical “sting” operations seems to go as follows. LMAS will identify a potential target — someone with puppies for sale — by reviewing advertisements for sales of puppies in the newspaper or elsewhere. An LMAS employee will contact the seller of the puppies and pose as an interested buyer. The LMAS employee will solicit an invitation to view the puppies at the seller’s home. The “undercover” LMAS employee will view the puppies at the seller’s home and will then arrange surreptitiously for LMAS officers or police officers to appear at the home — without a warrant — and demand entry. Puppies and dogs will be seized from the home and the seller will be cited for attempting to sell a puppy without a “Class A Kennel License.” The animals are then effectively held for ransom at LMAS until the owner complies with a host of extraordinary burdens imposed by LMAS — including microchipping, spaying or neutering the animals, and imposing exorbitant fees and fines.
There may be variations on this theme, but in each scenario LMAS appears to be using questionable techniques to enforce an inapplicable law. Section 91.027(A) of the animal ordinance prohibits a sale, or advertisement for sale, of an animal by any person required to be licensed under 91.020 and 91.023. Section 91.020 requires that “dogs” be licensed. Since “dogs” are defined elsewhere as canines “four months of age or older,” there is no prohibition on the sale of puppies under four months. Section 91.023 requires licenses for, among other things, persons who operate a “Class A Kennel or Cattery.” A “Class A Kennel or Cattery” is defined as an “establishment where dogs and/or puppies or cats and/or kittens are kept for the primary purpose of breeding, buying, or selling such animals…” One who operates a Class A Kennel is required to pay a yearly license fee of $150 and must comply with numerous other requirements. See 91.120 (requiring, among other things, that owners of Class A Kennel facilities comply with the standards applicable to boarding kennels, which mandates individual enclosures for each animal, daily cleaning of the enclosures with disinfectant, and floors constructed of metal, fiberglass, concrete or three inches of gravel).
Plainly, all animal owners who sell a litter of puppies are not operating an “establishment” for the “primary purpose” of selling animals and therefore are not required to obtain a Class A Kennel License. As such, it appears that LMAS is engaged in a blanket effort to enforce a provision of the ordinance against people to whom the provision does not apply. It is bad enough for LMAS to (either intentionally or unintentionally) misapply the laws for which LMAS bears the responsibility of enforcing. But it is extremely troubling that, in furtherance of this clear misapplication of the law, LMAS is using law enforcement techniques that are constitutionally suspect.
It may be the case that this new enforcement effort results in ancillary “benefits” to LMAS in the form of revenue raised from selling the seized puppies to the public as adopted animals or extracting high fees from people to “reclaim” his or her animals. Regardless, the current practices of LMAS as set forth above must cease or my clients will be forced to take appropriate action.
Finally, we continue not to understand how the director of LMAS, Gilles Meloche, is able to enforce any provision of the animal ordinance in light of the fact that he is not, and is not qualified to be, a peace officer within the meaning of Kentucky law.
I will look forward to your response regarding the foregoing. Thank you.
DINSMORE & SHOHL LLP
Jon L. Fleischaker