NEWPORT, Wash. - Washington state has some of the most progressive animal cruelty laws in the country, but animal welfare experts say even those strong laws don't always stop businesses from selling dogs and cats as commodities, rather than pets.
Jeanette Bergman didn't want to talk about her very troubling history of mistreating dogs. Bergman and her husband have had multiple run-ins with the law and have spent months in jail.
On one occasion, authorities raided one of her dog breeding operations and found well over 200 dogs. Some of the dogs survived, but some were dying and others were already dead.
More than a decade later, Bergman is back in business selling dogs. She prefers to meet with customers in the back parking lot of a Pend Oreille County McDonald's, where she charges thousands of dollars per dog.
Bergman and her husband, Sven, live 10 miles outside of Newport, but it's unclear if any of the customers who buy their cats or dogs have ever been inside the the to make sure the conditions are acceptable.
Police photos from an unannounced inspection in 2011 show water and food bowls are full and upright, and the dirt appears to be raked. An attending veterinarian found some animals with under-treated injuries, and the cat room had an overwhelming stench of urine.
Bergman was ordered to make corrections to those problems but, overall, the vet said she wasn't violating any laws.
Dan Paul with the Humane Society of the United States said Bergman's case points to the chasm between varying national, state and local cruelty laws, which are used in cases involving both livestock and pets.
"I feel like she is skirting just under the state law. That's concerning," Paul said.
Paul said the system is better now. Dogs and cats must get essential food, shelter and vet care, but socialization, human contact, grooming and compassion are still not required of large commercial breeders.
"I think if we don't like it, we need to change it," Paul said. "And the way that we have the power to change it is to not patronize a business like that."
Bergman sells her dogs and cats online. Animal welfare groups say each time someone buys blindly online or from most pet stores, they're condemning unadopted pets to euthanasia.
"You are allowing these industries to thrive. It is on you, it is on the consumer," Paul said.
Dog lover Patrick O'Brien agrees, and he has made a vow to never buy online again. He bought his dog, Winston, from Bergman's website.
"Once you get attached to the picture, you're just hooked," he said.
After buying Winston, O'Brien realized something wasn't right with the dog. His vet told him physical problems associated with over breeding will cost him $8,000 in surgery.
"So he's basically in pain. He takes pain medicine every morning and night," O'Brien said.
In the meantime, business is booming for Bergman. She said she only has one puppy in stock until the next litter is born.
In an effort to reduce the number of unwanted pets, state lawmakers are considering a small fee on certain pet foods that will pay for low cost -- or even no cost -- spay and neuter services across the state.
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