January 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Dogs Not Run Of The Mill Exotic, Pricey Breeds Raised At Raided Kennel

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Money distinguishes the Jan. 4 raid on the Mountain Top Kennel near Newport from most animal cruelty cases in rural northeastern Washington.

Abused or neglected animals usually are more a liability than an asset. Sometimes, their owners don’t live a lot better than they do.

But the 240 dogs taken from Jeanette and Sven Bergman were a valuable commodity, and authorities also found $20,000 in the couple’s safe.

Purebred dog enthusiasts paid thousands of dollars for animals that survived what authorities said were filthy conditions at the Bergmans’ kennel.

Jeanette Bergman hung up when called for comment about what authorities said was the “puppy mill” she had operated. Her kennel specialized in exotic mastiffs and popular, expensive golden retrievers.

“It’s these purebred dog nuts who create the market for this,” said one public official who declined to be identified.

The issue is sensitive because many, if not most, of the volunteers who helped sheriff’s deputies seize and care for the Bergmans’ dogs are purebred dog enthusiasts.

Pure-breed owners love dogs but sometimes subject their animals to surgeries that other dog lovers find cruel.

Some people were outraged when they saw pictures of the Bergmans’ Neapolitan mastiff puppies with their ears cut off. But removal of ears and tails is part of the official “standard” for the breed. It’s called “docking.”

The Bergmans are suspected of improperly trimming their dogs’ ears without anesthetic or proper sanitation. Normal practice calls for a veterinarian to perform the surgery and stitch the wounds to promote healing.

“This lady (Bergman) didn’t even come close,” said Randy Tedrow, an Oldtown, Idaho, veterinarian who participated in the Mountain Top Kennel rescue. “She took a knife or scissors and cut off their ears close to the skull with no anesthetic.”

“Reputable people, honorable people, people who really care about animals don’t do it themselves,” said Larry Babb, a Seattle-area dog trainer who helped collect food and money for the Mountain Top Kennel rescue.

Docking is starting to fall into disfavor among some dog groups and is banned in some countries, including Canada, Babb and Tedrow said.

“We don’t agree with any mutilation of dogs,” said a spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “It just causes unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, and it’s totally unnecessary.”

Tedrow said he docks ears on some dogs, such as boxers, but wouldn’t perform the severe cuts prescribed for mastiffs. Mastiffs traditionally are used for fighting or protection, and their ears “are just an area where the dog can sustain injury or lose blood,” Tedrow said.

Bred by ancient Romans for war and fighting in the Colosseum, Neapolitan mastiffs have powerful muscles and disproportionately large heads and jaws. A typical male is 26 to 30 inches at the shoulders and weighs 132 to 155 pounds.

“This dog, when it’s fully grown, will take a Rottweiler and turn it into just another piece of meat,” Tedrow said.

Almost extinct until recently, Neapolitans and other mastiffs are still somewhat rare in the United States. Although mastiffs are prized as show dogs, Tedrow believes much of the international demand for them is as guard dogs and for fighting.

He said several international telephone calls - from South American and Far Eastern countries, among others - were received at the Bergman home when he was there with law officers during the two-day rescue operation.

“The market is outside of the continental United States,” Tedrow said. “That’s the reason for what’s going on here. …

“She wasn’t raising $25 mutts. She had a marketing plan.”

San Francisco-area resident Dan Ficher said he ordered a Cane Corso, a smaller type of mastiff, from the Bergmans because he wanted an imposing dog to scare off burglars.

Insurers discriminate against “a very long list (of large dogs), and Cane Corsos are definitely not on the list,” Ficher said. Besides, he said, the breed is Italian and so is he, “so I thought it was kind of cool.”

Ficher also wanted a show dog.

Like several other Mountain Top Kennel customers, he paid a premium price for what court documents say turned out to be nonpedigree dogs that don’t meet dogshow standards. Like others, Ficher’s dog was sick when it arrived.

According to veterinary records Ficher submitted, the dog had parvo - a disease that can be spread by poor sanitation.

Ficher has just won a $2,500 judgment against the Bergmans in Pend Oreille County District Court to cover his $1,664 purchase price as well as vet bills and other costs.

Part of Ficher’s court complaint was that his dog arrived with badly cropped ears and a tail that was too long. He said he had to pay a veterinarian to perform corrective surgery.

Ficher admits he violated the most important rule of dog buying: Visit the kennel and see the dog first. He said he flew to Los Angeles to visit another kennel, which didn’t have what he wanted, but Jeanette Bergman “strongly discouraged” his request to visit.

She offered numerous assurances and “was so convincing on the phone,” he said. Also, he said Mountain Top Kennel was recommended by a breeders’ referral service in California.

However, several animal-welfare advocates said they don’t know of any authoritative guide to breeders.

Some so-called referral services do nothing more than pass along information submitted by kennels. That’s exactly what is stated in a small disclaimer on an Internet list of breeders that included Mountain Top Kennel.

In Washington, there also is no government inspection or significant regulation of kennels such as Mountain Top. A federal licensing and inspection program doesn’t apply to kennels that sell directly to the public.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman in Maryland said he checked on the Bergmans after reading a newspaper story about the raid on their kennel. He found they are exempt from federal regulation.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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