DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Attorney General's Office is suing to shut down what it describes as a national puppy-laundering ring that sells dogs from illegal breeding operations at inflated prices while pretending the animals are rescues.
The lawsuit filed Monday seeks an injunction to dissolve breeder J.A.K.'s Puppies, and nonprofits Hobo K9 Rescue and Rescue Pets Iowa Corp, Attorney General Tom Miller's Office said in a news release . The lawsuit also alleges four ringleaders — Jolyn Noethe, Kimberly Dolphin, Megan Peterson, and Russell Kirk — violated Iowa's consumer fraud act.
The operations sold almost 1,300 animals in California, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey for more than $700,000 from 2016 to 2018, the lawsuit said. None of the puppies — including Pomeranians, Shar-Peis, Alaskan Malamutes, Poodle-Yorkies — were re-homed in Iowa.
"No matter where they live, consumers should not be misled about the source of the pets they buy," Miller said. "Puppy laundering obscures the identity of breeders who may have animal welfare violations or other problems."
The state is seeking $40,000 in fines per violation, plus reimbursement to defrauded customers.
Kirk, who is the president of Rescue Pets, declined to comment to the Des Moines Register. Noethe, Dolphin, Peterson are all officers with Hobo K9 and J.A.K.'s. The newspaper was unable to reach them for comment.
J.A.K.'s acquired the animals from puppy mills then sold them to Hobo K9, which sold them for profit, the lawsuit said. Animal welfare groups say puppy mills are cruel; they breed the animals constantly and force them to live in cramped, often dirty conditions.
Miller's office began investigating the groups in June 2018, prompting the alleged ringleaders to create a "brand-new sham charity" called Rescue Pets Iowa Corp. in December last year, the lawsuit said.
The nonprofit's fees are "extravagant" and the animals being sold were all puppies, a vast departure from legitimate rescues that typically charge minimal fees and primarily offer older animals, the state said.
This story has been corrected to show the lawsuit was filed Monday, not Wednesday.