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Va. breeder testifies business is not puppy mill, others disagree

Friday - 2/8/2013, 8:49pm  ET

dog, puppy mill
This image of a Power Point shown at Irina Barrett's zoning hearing features pictures from the Broad Run home where she breeds dogs. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
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Editor's note: The final pages of this story contain part of the report written by the humane investigator for this case.

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FAUQUIER COUNTY, Va. - Websites for Fauquier County dog breeder Irina Barrett show dogs and puppies playing in a large paddock area. There's plenty of information about the care Barrett takes in breeding and training happy, healthy dogs.

But reading the January report from a humane investigator offers a starkly different picture.

Great Danes, Boxers, French Bulldogs and Dobermans kept in plastic or wire crates --some in an unheated outbuilding, one in a crate in a dark closet, others with scars from fights.

Plus all of the dogs were in quarters with a strong odor of feces and urine.

Part of the report written by Hilleary Bogley, a humane investigator in Fauquier and Culpeper counties describes dogs found in one kennel area as appearing "underweight, fearful/unsocialized."

The same report indicates that after Bogley's first visit, she found out there were other dogs on the site Barrett hadn't shown her. Barrett is otherswise described in the report as cooperative and willing to make improvements on the site.

On Thursday, the Fauquier County Board of Zoning Appeals held a hearing on Barrett's request to get approval to operate her kennel. The meeting room in Warrenton was packed with people, some neighbors, and all opposed to Barrett's request. The meeting took place after several members of the board visited Barrett's home as part of a site visit.

WTOP was allowed to visit, but the owner barred photos from being taken.

At the hearing, a tearful Barrett plopped a foot-high stack of documents on the speaker's podium and told the board members that they represented documentation of her dedication to caring for and breeding her dogs.

Breaking down into tears Barrett told the members, "I know what I am. I am honest and straightforward. I am not a puppy mill."

She tearfully told the board members she would do what they required as long as she could continue to breed her dogs at her Broad Run home, she mentioned Dobermans - not the other breeds.

"I can't lose my dogs, it's everything to me. I hope you base your decision on the facts, what you've seen."

After she spoke, a parade of witnesses testified starting with Bogley, whose report appeared online in many dog forums and sparked outrage and interest. Bogley, who runs an animal rescue site called the Middleburg Humane Foundation made clear that Barrett was cooperative and accomodating throughout her investigation.

Bogley declined to call the situation in the Broad Run home abusive

"It is not a cruelty case," Bogley said. She followed this, however, with, "I consider it a puppy mill."

"Mrs. Barrett knows what she's doing. She moved from Fairfax County where she did have a kennel license violation."

The Humane Society of the United States defines a puppy mill this way: "A puppy mill is an inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits."

Barrett insists what she does isn't a money-making operation, but a kennel dedicated to breeding quality dogs.

Learning Barrett had a previous experience operating a kennel without a license and then moved to Fauquier, where she's operated without a kennel license for three and a half years, infuriated some of the speakers. It prompted many to ask the zoning board to keep the fact in mind as they decide whether to grant her a special permit.

Charles Dennis says he lives next door to the Barrett's property.

" I can't sit on my patio day or evening without hearing those dogs barking. I've counted anywhere from 16 to 20 to 22 at a time."

Sometimes Dennis says he'd hear fighting break out among the dogs, describing the noise as "disturbing."

"The squeals of the poor dog getting the bad end of the stick - the noise is atrocious. "

Summing up his testimony Dennis said, "The care of the dogs is beyond my comprehension."

Another neighbor, Jeff Caliberi said dogs had jumped Barrett's fence and that he'd called her a number of times to tell her the fencing on her property needed to be improved.

Caliberi called the fencing totally inadequate and said on a couple of occasions, dogs had made it onto his property and cornered his horse inside its barn.

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