Caged: How Ohio Politicians Keep the State’s Puppy Mill Business Booming with Little Regulation

I had been following Ohio’s work on puppy mill regulations since Kyle Swenson published the first Scene dispatch from Holmes County back in 2010. Since then, little had changed. Little had been done to actually protect the dogs in question and force breeders to follow even simply a handful of rules. So I traveled south to figure out what was going on.

An dog rescue organizer and advocate drove me around Holmes County and surrounding areas. She told me stories of what happened to the dogs in the past and in the present. Economic pressures had squeezed out most of the smaller puppy operations since Swenson’s report, but the market had mostly consolidated into the big players – breeders who ran massive operations and got close to political leaders. Relationships had been formed among those people who treated puppies as business and the folks in Columbus who pulled the real strings.

Again, little had changed.

An excerpt:

A slanted roof covers a row of tiny cages growing hot in the morning sun. From half a mile across otherwise gentle farmland, what appears to be a lone Yorkie can be seen sitting idly and watching passing cars and buggies.

Puppy kennels—”puppy mills” in the more oppositional colloquy—are easy to spot from the circuitous roads of rural countrysides around Northeast Ohio. The heart of the commercial dog breeding industry in Ohio lies mostly within and around Amish Country—Holmes County, south of Wooster, and neighboring Tuscarawas, Ashland and Guernsey counties. Winding roads weave in and among hills, and gravelly driveways jut off at odd intervals. Now and then, a series of buildings crop upward out of the land. These are homes, barns, silos, storage areas. But often enough, tucked among the other buildings are small kennels built for small animals. In the past decade, in many cases, puppies have lived in them.

There’s nothing secretive about the mills. But there’s certainly a darkness about them that gets brushed under the regions’ handwoven rugs.

“We have Yorkies and we have Westies,” a young Amish woman says as a prospective customer sidles up to the house and broaches the subject. She doesn’t let the customer wander too far off the rocky driveway; rather, she dispatches four of her children to cull a couple of puppies from the kennel behind the garage. For the most part, buyers don’t get a good look at the conditions of these makeshift homes and breeding grounds. “They are…eh, how old now? Four weeks old now,” the woman says, squinting into the morning sun.

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My latest feature: Live from Trumbull County

The sorrowful blues of B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” isn’t lost on anyone in the room as Vincent works his blue Fender Telecaster into a frenzy. Vincent’s known as “Starter” to the other guys around here, and not just for his virtuosity on the guitar. He’s also a sound engineer and music theory teacher and he’s been doing this since it all started.

“You gotta be out of trouble for so long before you can be here,” he says.

Vincent is talking about the Music With A Purpose program at Trumbull Correctional Institution, because Vincent is locked up here and he’s not leaving anytime soon. With nearly a decade to go before he gets a shot at parole, Vincent joins dozens of other inmates here in pursuit of music. And rock ‘n’ roll. And freedom of some limited, creative sort.

“This is the goal,” he says. “This is the ultimate goal, to be able to come out here and play.”

Read more here

Times-Picayune leadership announces a fresh twist

In the latest round of How Much Can Advance Bungle THAT Newspaper?, Times-Picayune management has announced a new, three-day publication called TPStreet.

The whole thing is equal parts bizarre and par-for-the-course for the paper’s parent company, Advance Publications. Journalist John McQuaid pointed out that you’re gonna need a spreadsheet to figure out the delivery/publishing schedule. Maybe the T-P will print that and deliver it to subscribers every third Wednesday during Leap Years?

Before once again disclosing my own interest in this development, it’s worth pointing out that quote offered up by Vice President of Advertising Kelly Rose: “We are excited about this opportunity to extend our daily reach in print.”

But… But. But… The company HAD a seven-day print product! And it was profitable! Aside from the irony of the corporate maneuvering, Rose’s declaration also lends credence to the idea that advertisers aren’t entirely buying into the types of digital packages that companies like Advance and, you know, THE REST OF THE INDUSTRY are shilling. Print still matters in many ways, especially when it comes time to take a wayward glance across those balance sheets.

Anywho… This news rings with fascination for me over here in Cleveland, because it simultaneously dispels and upholds the cookie-cutter notion that we’ve all feared when analyzing Advance’s moves. The notion is dispelled as the company’s holdings in markets like New Orleans and Cleveland begin to employ somewhat different tactics en route to the digital revolution. (See The Plain Dealer’s three-day-a-week home delivery announcement.) The notion is upheld because all roads still clearly point to the same black hole of reader disgruntlement, market monopoly and page-view tabulation.

To borrow a turn of phrase from one T-P commenter: “Oh, come on…”

Amy Goodman visits Cleveland

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! stopped by a Cleveland bookstore en route to completing the 100-city tour she and DN! special projects manager Denis Moynihan are promoting.

Amy Goodman speaks at Visible Voice Books Sept. 14.

Her talk spanned the news program’s 16-year history, with stories from recent assignments at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

To be honest, her take on journalism’s role in society was so enthralling that I didn’t take many notes. But in saying that the press should be a sanctuary for dissent, Goodman reiterated the often forgotten notion that journalists perform a very specific and important function. They remain separate from the powers that be, shedding light on what those powers do when they think they’re behind closed doors.

Well, that’s true every now and then. It’s true enough, however, that DN! represents a departure from much of the corporate-backed media that so often dominate readers’ media diets.

And that brings to mind a final thought for the day. I spoke at the Cleveland Salon this past weekend as part of a conversation on the local news media. I questioned participants to analyze their own media diets and seek to understand more fully where their news is coming from.

In reality, I was preaching to the choir. The group comprised educated, media-savvy professionals from the Cleveland area. But it’s still an important point to ponder, whether one is tuning into Goodman’s DN! broadcasts or curating a list of news websites via Twitter, etc.

A quiet primary gets loud

May 8, a primary election day for many, offered up two interesting votes:

  • In West Virginia, an incarcerated felon earned 41 percent of the Democratic primary vote
  • And in North Carolina, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment banning gay marriage in the state

Sure, the W. Va. story offers nothing of consequence for President Obama’s reelection campaign. It’s an interesting footnote in a long succession of primary elections this year, but…

President Obama is expected to discuss his views on gay marriage in an ABC interview to air May 9.Photo via WIRED

The matter in No. Car., however, may be prove to be a sticking point for the duration of the presidential “race.”

This afternoon, ABC will air a portion of an interview with Obama on the subject of gay marriage. As media throughout the country are right to point out, the interview is following hot on the heels of VP Joe Biden’s endorsement of gay marriage.

On one hand, it’s a timely move for the Obama administration as it eyes November. But following that, one has to wonder: Will the North Carolina vote push the notion of a gay marriage referendum to the forefront of the 2012 campaign?

You can bet all-but-official GOP nominee Willard Romney and Obama will go toe-to-toe on this issue in the fall.

As always, though, I’ve gotta ask: Why has this matter become so politicized?

Related:

Most, but not all, Native American jurisdictions have no special regulation for marriages between people of the same sex or gender. Due to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government is specifically prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages

Just sayin’…

Thought for Thought…

NYU professor Jay Rosen sent out a series of thought-provoking tweets this morning. He was presenting a talk at the Media 140 Conference in Barcelona.

Check out the list of eight ideas. They’re succinct points about the future of journalism – and the innovation of it.

I want to expound on one in particular:

7. Journalists: Instead of crying about Google stealing your news, steal from Google. Start “organizing the world’s information.” #media140

That’s an important point – the need for journalists to start “organizing the world’s information.” The Internet remains a blizzard of facts, non-facts, opinions, commentary, history, et. al. In order to effectively integrate the fundamental tenets of journalism into the Internet, some semblance of organization will surely be needed.

From the Portland chapter of IWW

Rather than shy away from the limitless opportunities the Internet affords modern journalists, we should embrace them. These opportunities are not going away. In fact, the longer we ignore them, the more likely they’ll be thrust into the hands of the power-hungry, the profiteering and the brainless. (Just look at the majority of comments on most any news story. The drivel that many people feel free to spout will only continue.)

Organize! It’s the mantra of the working class. And it’s now the mantra of a new class of journalists. (Let’s hope so.)

Ohio House approves JobsOhio bill, looks forward to privatizing Dept. of Development

I wanted to link to a story Plunderbund published earlier today.

Gov. John Kasich has been waxing conservative about his JobsOhio initiative, which effectively privatizes the state’s Department of Development. The idea passed in the Ohio House today, thanks to the Republican majority ushered in during the November elections.

"And here is where one would normally find a brain."

Democrats and government watchdogs worry that this concept, House Bill 1, “invites scandal and corporate favoritism because it lacks transparency and accountability,” according to Plain Dealer reporter Joe Guillen. And that’s the fundamental problem here. Kasich’s sweeping brushstroke of privatization is ensured to be exempt from state ethics laws, audits and any sort of public exposure.

On a related note, Plunderbund published a story examining a similar program in Florida – one that’s coming to a disgraced end. Gov. Rick Scott, the newly elected Republican governor of Florida, is moving in the exact opposite direction of Kasich and Co. And given the fact that, once state districts are redrawn, Republican rule will dominate Ohio for quite some time, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any sort of policy reversal any time soon.

The bill will be voted on in the state Senate, where it’s expected to fly through with little Democratic interference.

“The sooner we can breathe new life into Ohio’s development efforts and better focus on job-creation initiatives, the sooner we can begin reviving Ohio’s economy and creating jobs,” Kasich said in a written statement. “The bill now goes to the Senate where I know that equal support for it exists, and I look forward to quick passage of the bill there as well.”

Ho hum, pass the rum.