“My brother, his girlfriend, my wife and I visited this place looking for a dog for our parents…… We counted north of 100 dogs crammed into pens appropriate for only a couple, living in feces. Several dogs had open wounds, one dog in particular had a festering sore on his foot. The dogs were clearly wound tight, suggesting they are rarely released from these tiny pens. I recall a young female lab who was admittedly a couple years old but was well past her 3rd litter, stuck in a 2×3 crate. My brother’s girlfriend left crying; it was that sad.”
This is Chase Morgan’s firsthand account of Ron Abbott’s Top Dog Kennel, written in March of 2016.
Dozens of first-hand testimonies just like this poured into Tulare Puppy Mill – Shut it Down (Shut it Down), a Facebook page when the founder launched it in 2016.
Ron Abbott, owner of Top Dog Kennel, says that the comments on facebook are all untrue and that the group is engaging in cyber-bullying.
“I love my dogs,” he said.
“I have 100 happy customers for every 1 customer that is unhappy,” said Abbott. “Most of the people
complaining have never even seen my kennels and some of the comments are from outside the county.”
“These people are just like the activists who protest dairies because the cows are confined and the calves are taken away,” said Abbott.
Patrick Hamblin, Director of Tulare County Animal Services, allegedly advised Abbott to ignore the group, but Abbott has been considering legal action.
Abbott said the group conducts protests in front of his home, and that they have threatened to paintball his billboards and break into his kennel and let all the dogs go. “They leave messages on social media saying that there is a special place in hell for people like me.”
He said the group even leaves nasty comments on his church’s Facebook page, such as “do you breed your daughter also?”
“It’s too much. It needs to stop.”
Top Dog Kennel is within the Code
According to Tammy Weyker- Adkins, Tulare County Public Information Officer, an unannounced kennel inspection was conducted at Top Dog Kennels on December 23, 2017 by Animal Services along with a Veterinarian. Abbott was found to be in violation of not having a breeder’s permit and was issued a citation. He resolved the issue by January of 2018
The veterinarian conducted a general assessment of the animals and found the oveall health of the animals to be good.
Hamblin said that Abbott has a license allowing 45 adult dogs (four months or older) but has been in violation in the past and was notified. Kennels housing more than five dogs need to renew its license and have an inspection every year, with which Abbott has complied.
Currently, the breeding permit allows an operator to breed a female dog twice in a 12 month period, and there are no regulations concerning the age for when to start or stop breeding, the size of the enclosure, amount of exercise, or human contact.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, breeding dogs may be confined to spaces only six inches larger than their bodies, not including the tail and they may be caged 24 hours a day for their entire life. Unwanted animals may be killed.
Hamblin says that under California codes and Tulare County Ordinances Abbott’s kennel meets the minimum standards. He said that the Tulare County Animal Services Advisory Committee is currently reviewing these ordinances which may affect Abbott’s ability to comply in the future.
“Updating the ordinances is a lengthy process to implement. Once we get a draft there is community outreach, then the necessary changes are made, and then the suggested ordinances are presented to the Board of Supervisors,” said Hamblin.
Abbott says even though he has a license for 45 animals he tries to keep the number just under that.
In regards to breeding, Abbott explained that in the wild a female dog would be pregnant at six months and then have a litter every six months after that. But Abbott says he doesn’t start until the dog’s second heat when she is about one and a half years old. Abbott also said that he only breeds his females once a year.
In terms of an age limit, he said he breeds them for five to six years “or not even that long” depending on the condition and breed of the dog.
All of his dogs exercise everyday he says, and that he has three employees who are in and out of the kennels socializing the puppies. He also does genetic testing on his Labradors and German Shepherds for any genetic disorders before he breeds them.
Personal Accounts Contradict Abbott’s Claims
Abbott’s employees, volunteers, but mostly his customers, wrote of their first-hand experiences with Top Dog Kennel. Their testimonies range from 1999 to 2018. Here is a small sample.
Laura Hamilton wrote on February 15, 2016:
“……(Four months after Laura sold Abbott one of their puppies for breeding) my husband received a call from Ron … He was leaving town and the dog we had sold him was ill and at the Vet … Could we pick her up!!! She was only 9 months old and the vet took 6 pups by C section. Our dog was emaciated, you could see the bones in her face and hips. She was covered in ticks, fleas and feces. We took turns sleeping with her in the barn. Our dog did not move for 5 days.
“Ron had the nerve to call us and state that he wanted his dog back. He said he needed to sell her because he had a big vet bill to pay!! I told him in no uncertain terms that he would never see this dog again and if he gave us any problems I would turn him in to the authorities. We never heard from him again, but now I wish I had turned him in anyway.”
Kimberley Lindley wrote of her November 23, 2013 visit:
“It had rained recently and the kennels for the dogs without puppies were on dirt and they lived in the mud. The kennels for the moms and pups were smaller. ….They (the moms) were so skinny you could see their ribs. Their teats were out of proportion to their body. I recall thinking that one teat was almost the size of the mama’s paw. Her puppies were playing and rolling in feces. I saw a pup with fees on his head then put his head in the water bucket to drink then another pup went to drink from the same water.”
Buyer who wants to withhold her name, February 2018:
“We went to pick up an older dog that Ron could not breed any longer. She was 10 years old and had had a litter about six months ago. She had scratches and facial scars. She was very hand shy which is a symptom of being hit. She does not like to be around people and is not used to humans being nice to her. It took me over an hour to finally get her though the back door back into the house then another hour trying to catch her in my living room. Once she felt she was cornered, she dropped to the ground and wouldn’t move. Challenging is an understatement. Absolutely everything is overwhelming to her. Windows, mirrors, normal house noises, moving too quickly, the sound of a TV, water running, etc. A quiet environment is what she needs for a while and a lot of patience and to understand humans can actually be good too.”
Judy Summers wrote of her experience in December of 2014:
“The first thing we noticed was that Ron had a huge number of animals on his grounds. Everything from peacocks to guinea hens. Ron advised us that he bred and sold all kinds of game fowl, numerous breeds of dogs and horses…. My husband chose a blonde male puppy (Rowdy) and Ron placed a band around his neck. The total price for a male labradoodle was $1200.
Rowdy had a severe seizure in July of 2015 and quit breathing…..We took him to a veterinarian who wanted to wait until Rowdy was 2 years old to put him on an anti-seizure medication. We asked what caused Rowdy to have seizures and the vet said it is almost always bad breeding techniques. He told us to watch Rowdy and to bring him back if he had another seizure. Shortly before Rowdy’s 2nd birthday, we lost him to another massive seizure.”
Ellie Blankenship, December 14, 2017:
“The filth and stench was hard to overcome. I’ve been to many animal shelters and I know what to expect. I requested a female chocolate lab puppy and was led to a kennel. ….What I saw was an emaciated woeful mama with severe hair loss, not mange, and possibly a yellow lab/or weim…..Several kennels in that area were full of various sizes and kinds of dogs. Filthy labradoodles, doxies., labs and a black shepherd. Sad state of things at this place. These animals were cold and wet and begging for some socialization. This place needs to be shut down.
Bryce was 17 years old when he worked for Abbott. The following is an excerpt from an interview.
“All the kennels were full of sh*t. They were about five foot by ten foot kennels full of dogs that lived right on top of their poop because there was no space.”
Bryce said that besides cleaning poop, he was supposed to try and socialize the puppies. He was the kennel’s only employee so didn’t have much time for the puppies after his cleaning duties. He said the puppies would run away and wouldn’t even let him touch them because they were so scared of people.
Bryce recounted that when Abbott was going to breed a dog he tied the female to a post with a rope in a pen then put the male dog with her. On one occasion Bryce heard loud yelping and saw Abbott grabbing the female by the back of the neck and shaking her. Abbott then threw her down. He grabbed the male dog and put him on top of her until they mated.
Bryce said, “That’s when I quit. It’s obvious the dog did not want to mate or be pregnant.”
Organizing Protests as a Last Resort
On July 4 of this year Shut it Down held a protest in front of Abbott’s house where he keeps his kennels. Their slogan was, “Happy 4th of July! Unfortunately, it won’t be a good one for the dogs trapped in Ron Abbott’s Top Dog Kennels,” high -lighting the fact that while most dogs get to go inside a house when fireworks explode Abbott’s dogs are stuck in their kennels outside.
The protests are their last resort after years of trying to shut down the alleged puppy mill by working with the county.
On November 23, 2013 Lindley visited Abbott’s kennels. She was so upset by what she saw she immediately contacted Tulare County Animal Services (TCAS), Health and Human Services and Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, because the kennel was in his district.
On hearing his constituents concerns, Vander Poel organized a meeting with Timothy Lutz, former director of Finances, Patrick Hamblin from TCAS and someone in code enforcement.
After the meeting Lutz wrote Lindley in January of 2014, “they are working on an unannounced visit. We are ensuring that we have capacity at the shelter, should we need to detain a large number of animals; that piece obviously is extremely important and essential for the animal’s well being.”
By February everything seemed to fall apart. According to Lutz in an email written to Lindley, “First, please understand that this is a complex situation and we’re actively engaged in an investigation. In January, both Animal Control and the Building Department have gone to the facility on separate occasions. No significant violations were identified, but that is, in part, a product of Mr. Abbott having some level of awareness that we were coming out. That does not mean that this case is closed.”
But because Abbott was always maintaining the minimal standards, there was really nothing more the county could do.
That string of events started the county’s efforts into changing the ordinances.
What Can Concerned Tulare County Residents Do?
Animal Services has been working with the Advisory Committee, County Counsel, and the Humane Society of the US on developing new “Commercial Kennel and Breeder Permit Minimum Standards that will significantly improve the overall conditions of the animals and place additional restrictions on the number of times an animal may be bred in a 12 month period,” said Weyker – Adkins.
To find out how to get appointed to the advisory committee go to their website or attend the meetings. tcanimalservices.org/animalservices/index.cfm/services/get-involved/advisory-committee/
TCAS Advisory Committee meets the second Thursday of each month. Meeting locations vary. The next meeting is August 9 at 1pm in the Resource Management Agency Conference Room 5961 S Mooney Blvd.
Weyker-Adkins strongly encourages residents to contact Animal Services at [email protected] with any concerns or negative experiences they’ve had with the purchase of an animal from a breeder. She also suggests that if you are at a kennel that seems to violate the California code on sanitary conditions to contact Animal Services immediately at 559 636-4050.
To file a complaint go to [email protected]. All photo evidence of unsanitary conditions needs to be current. Animal Services conducts unannounced visits of permitted facilities during the year and based on any complaints received.
One and a Half Million Animals are Euthanized a Year
Abbott says that the people protesting his kennel are a bunch of animal rights activists who hate anyone who breeds dogs or cats, no matter what the code says.
In a sense he is right.
According to the ASPCA, 1.5 million animals are euthanized a year. Animal activists believe that people shouldn’t ever buy a dog when they can rescue a dog from a shelter. But Abbott says those who want to buy a purebred aren’t the type of people to go to a shelter to adopt an abandoned animal.
Abbott feels he has a sympathetic ear in Supervisor Vander Poel because he owns a dairy. But Vander Poel’s first priority was listening to his constituents’ concerns while maintaining that, “We need to make sure that what the accusers say is happening is actually happening.”
Vander Poel ended the conversation saying that he is not “In tune with how to purchase a purebred animal.”
“For myself I have a rescue dog from Tulare County Animal Services and it’s such a pleasurable experience now since the revamp of the facility to go to the shelter and pick out a family pet.”