Missouri Attorney General shuts down dog breeder due to animals being kept in cruel conditions

Animal Abuse

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced his office has filed a lawsuit, citing violations of the Animal Care Facilities Act (ACFA), and obtained a temporary restraining order against Cornerstone Farms, a dog breeding company operated by Debra Ritter and located in Curryville, Missouri. This case was referred to the Attorney General’s Office by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The lawsuit was filed on February 25 and the temporary restraining order was granted on Friday, February 28.

Inspectors with MDA conducted an unannounced inspection of Cornerstone Farms on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, and law enforcement served Ritter with both the temporary restraining order and the lawsuit, which bars her from selling or acquiring dogs. MDA inspectors also took an inventory of the dogs in Ritter’s possession.

During the March 3 inspection, MDA found 152 adult dogs and 63 puppies on-site and found dirty water bowls containing feces, dogs requiring treatment for skin conditions, and animals in stacked cages without an impervious barrier between the levels.

According to multiple previous inspections conducted by MDA, problems with the facility included inadequate documentation; dogs with reddened skin, hair loss, and thin bodies; issues with whelping room conditions; and more. While certain issues were corrected in re-inspections, other issues persisted throughout multiple inspections.

“Inadequate record keeping, injured dogs, improper facilities, and continued excuses to avoid inspection show that Cornerstone Farms cannot responsibly breed dogs in the state of Missouri, and that’s why we moved to shut this breeder down. Breeders who cannot follow the law put the health and welfare of animals at risk, and cast responsible breeders in a bad light,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “I appreciate the Department of Agriculture’s diligent work in inspecting and documenting the conditions at Cornerstone Farms and look forward to continuing to work with them on Animal Care Facilities Act enforcement in the future.”

According to MDA, inspection attempts were frequently stymied by Ritter. An official letter of warning was issued in late March 2019.

In an inspection on Jan. 20, 2020, several dogs appeared to have alopecia, hair loss, reddened skin, or other signs of irritation. Wet bedding was also observed in some enclosures, an accumulation of feces was found under one outdoor enclosure, blood (but no visible injuries) was found in another enclosure, and one Labradoodle had an ear hematoma.

MDA officials interviewed Ritter’s former veterinarian, Dr. Jim Foster, obtaining a sworn affidavit that Ritter failed to follow his advice and observed dogs in poor health while making inspections of Cornerstone Farms. The affidavit, which can be found here at THIS LINK, states that hands-on examinations occurring in July 2018 had to be cancelled because “too many of the dogs were lacking proper identification, a basic tenet of proper husbandry records.”

Additionally, Dr. Foster states Ritter failed to follow his instructions to eradicate disease from her kennel. Dr. Foster also noted that he had received phone calls and emails from consumers stating that dogs they bought from Ritter and examined by Foster had canine parvovirus, and some consumers alleged they received a different dog than that which was discussed.

A court hearing is scheduled for March 10 at 10:30 a.m. at the Pike County Courthouse in Bowling Green, Missouri.