Indiana woman lauded for work to end puppy mills

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - The Indiana Department of Revenue officers, state attorney general officials and volunteer animal lovers had descended on the rural Bloomington, Ind., area as quietly as possible.

They didn't want the woman who was breeding hundreds of dogs there under inhumane conditions to get wind of their arrival.

"It was like `CSI,"' Linda Candler says now of the operation that, as with Al Capone in 1920s Chicago, shut down a "puppy mill" because the breeder did not collect sales tax on the hundreds of puppies she had sold there.

Revenue officers handed the woman a $375,000 tax bill based on previous undercover visits and estimates on the numbers of dogs she had sold, Candler tells the South Bend Tribune. When the woman couldn't pay it, she was arrested and the rest of the dogs on the property were seized.

Then Humane Society of the United States volunteers -- including Candler -- assessed those animals and sent them to various animal rescue organizations.

Candler, who owns and operates Camp K-9 Doggie Day Care in Mishawaka, was recently honored nationally for her work against puppy mills.

Indiana has been listed as among the top five states in the country with the highest number of such dog breeding operations. And with their concentrated Amish populations, Elkhart and LaGrange counties are particularly high puppy mill areas.

Although it's difficult to define a puppy mill, Candler says such breeders treat dogs as livestock, confining high numbers of animals in tight quarters with often too little food, water, exercise and companionship.

Animals raised in such conditions are often small-breed dogs, but not always, Candler says.

She recalls attending a puppy mill auction undercover in Ohio a few years ago in which "a man was holding up a pregnant dog and said, `This is a moneymaker right now,' honest to God," Candler says. "I watched a man pay $1,800 for a little Yorkie so he can get $600 a pup. It's a commodity."

Candler has fostered and found homes for abandoned puppy mill dogs that needed to be taught how to trust people.

She "has taken in some of the most traumatized rescued puppy mill dogs for foster care," national Humane Society spokeswoman Cheylin Parker wrote in an email. "One of these dogs, named Mannie, was almost in a catatonic state when rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri in 2010. He is now a couch potato who has been adopted after benefiting from Linda's patient TLC."

Candler has worked with other animal groups, too, including for Pet Refuge, Heartland Small Animal Rescue and as director of the Humane Society of St. Joseph County for four years.

She is a member of the board of directors of the Frantz Fund, a local charity that provides some basic veterinary services for the pets of those who cannot afford them. Gayle Dantzler, who founded the group named for her late husband, Frantz, a longtime investigator for the HSUS, says Candler has been valuable in helping the board develop policies.

"Linda has for many years been able to find new and better ways to help animals in jeopardy," Dantzler says.

Last summer, Candler volunteered for a week in the heat of Alabama to help rescue the products of a pit bull fighting ring -- 367 skinny, scarred dogs -- the FBI was about to bust. She describes it as hard, hot work, but fulfilling.

"People say, `But some of those dogs are going to be euthanized,"' she says. "I said, `I know, but they aren't going to fight anymore."'

For now, Candler says she's going to keep working on her business -- "Our motto is `A good dog is a tired dog.' It's such a fun business" -- and look for new challenges.

"It's just time," she says, "for another chapter."

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