Lindsay Holiday took a break from her new duties as a first-time mom last summer to drive 90 minutes northwest of the Twin Cities. The reason: to play undercover canine detective at a kennel purported to be a large-scale puppy mill.
Holiday left her suburban Blaine home as a dog lover on a mission. She would pretend to be a prospective puppy buyer in order to find out all she could about the quality of life for what USDA inspection reports said were as many as 900 dogs on site.
She turned off Highway 55 about nine miles east of Paynesville, arriving at Sheila and Paul Haag's Valley View Kennel in Eden Valley.
In the front of the property was a kids' countryside candy land. The Haags operate A maze'n Farmyard. It's a sprawling array of family fun like putt-putt golf and a corn maze, as well as a 150-foot slide, a petting zoo, and inflatable good times known as “The Bounce Barn.”
Behind the entertainment center, Holiday eyed the barns that she suspected housed the massive dog-breeding operation.
"It's exactly what you would think a puppy mill looks like," she says. "Hundreds and hundreds of dogs, housed in cramped cages, bred over and over again. Dogs belong in homes with families, not in barns where they're bred like it's a factory."
Holiday played with a young pup she lied about being interested in buying. She then asked a kennel employee to take her to the barn and show her the young dog's parents. The man, according to Holiday, refused.
"If they have nothing to hide,” she says, “why couldn't a prospective owner see the puppy's parents?”
The stiff arm raised a red flag for Holiday, a self-anointed canine crusader with no affiliation to any animal rights group.
She would return.
The Haags' operation has a paper trail that would support Holiday's misgivings.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) identified the kennel in 2014 as one of “the 101 worst puppy mills in the country.” According to federal inspection reports from previous years, a Jack Russell was found with a growth on a front paw while another dog had "a red ulcer-like mass in the eye." It was noted that various gimpy dogs were suffering from swollen paws, which is common in facilities where animals are forced to stand on wire cage floors.
The kennel was also cited for failure to "establish and maintain adequate veterinary care" in a 2012 USDA violations report.
Holiday's return to the kennel is slated for next weekend. She's organizing a protest in front of the property for August 15.
"People see all this fun stuff in the front, but aren't aware of what's going on behind it," says Holiday. "We want people to know there's a puppy mill being operated there."
The kennel sells dogs on the website countryviewkennelofmn.com, according to Holiday. A message left on the phone number listed went unreturned.
Haag family spokesperson Mindy Patterson, founder of the Cavalry Group, which represents owners in the business of animals — from cattle ranchers to dog breeders — says a large number of dogs doesn’t equate to a poor level of care.
“This is another example of bully tactics from animal rights groups,” Patterson says. “These people are doing nothing wrong. They are operating a commercial breeding kennel that regularly undergoes inspections from both federal and state regulators."
Holiday claims to be merely a private citizen who's speaking out against what she sees as inhumane capitalism.
Patterson, by contrast, calls it “worrisome that legitimate dog breeders are being scrutinized” through charged allegations coming from animal rights crusaders.