Suspected Virginia Puppy Mill Claims Defamation

A Fauquier County dog breeder is suing the humane inspector who says she uncovered puppy mill conditions.

By: Marisa M. Kashino

A dispute between the owner of an alleged puppy mill and animal advocates and concerned neighbors in Fauquier County is intensifying. Irina Barrett, who runs Canis Maximus Kennel, is suing the Middleburg Humane Foundation and the Fauquier County humane inspector for defamation, as reported by Fauquier Now News. The lawsuit comes in the wake of heated hearings before the local zoning board where Barrett has been trying—in the face of widespread community opposition—to get approval to house her dogs. She has operated without a business license for the past three and a half years.

In the suit, filed in federal court this month in Alexandria, Barrett, who breeds Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes, claims that Fauquier County humane inspector Hilleary Bogley spread lies about her business in a report distributed throughout the area.

Bogley made a series of visits to Barrett’s kennel earlier this year, after she says she received an anonymous tip about inhumane conditions there. Among the observations Bogley documented: pens soaked in urine; dogs without access to water, heat, and ventilation; underweight and fearful dogs; and overall conditions that qualified Canis Maximus as a puppy mill.

Ultimately, Barrett agreed to surrender 12 of her dogs to be adopted through the Middleburg Humane Foundation. In her report, Bogley noted that the surrendered dogs had many health problems, including eye and ear infections, pneumonia, sores, and worms. In her complaint against Bogley, Barrett doesn’t deny the dogs were ill; rather, she says “many, if not all” of the problems are not unusual, and that she purposefully turned over dogs “most in need of veterinary support.”

The lawsuit doesn’t end with Barrett’s assertion that Bogley’s report defamed her. She also takes issue with the fact that Bogley runs the Middleburg Humane Foundation, in addition to her job as a humane inspector. She alleges that Bogley stood to benefit financially from taking her dogs, since they were then adopted out by the Humane Foundation, which charges adoption fees.

“It seems to be a direct conflict of interest,” said Barrett’s lawyer, Andrew Bodoh, to The Washingtonian. “The Middleburg Humane Foundation may not be a direct competitor [of Bogley], but they’re in the same business of placing dogs with families.”

But like most animal shelters, the Middleburg Humane Foundation is a nonprofit—not a commercial business—and says it charges adoption fees only to cover medical costs. According to its website, the $125 fee to adopt a dog helps cover expenses such as spay or neuter surgery and vaccinations. By comparison, Barrett’s Canis Maximus website says she sells her dogs for $1,500 to $2,500.

Asked how the Humane Foundation’s $125 adoption fees could be considered a profit, Bodoh said: “We don’t know all of the specifics at this point. That’s going to be part of discovery.”

Bogley has yet to respond in court filings to the lawsuit. We left a message for her, and will update this post if she returns the call.