In early 2008, freelance animal cruelty investigator Jason Smith began working at Pick of the Litter Kennels to gather evidence against its operator, Kathy Bauck. Smith submitted testimony and videos of alleged abuse to Otter Tail County sheriff’s detectives in May 2008. The videos included footage of injured, ill and emaciated dogs, as well as of Bauck dunking dogs in vats of insecticide.
The New York Mills, Minnesota, breeder, who has at times housed more than 1,300 dogs of at least 32 breeds, was arrested in August 2008 and charged with several counts of felony animal cruelty, torture and practicing veterinary medicine without a license.
With her history of complaints and citations against her—including a 2006 cease-and-desist order from the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine for performing surgery on animals without a veterinary license—Bauck is well-known to ASPCA investigators. “Kathy Bauck has been a chronic problem,” said Bob Baker, ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Initiatives Investigator. “I visited her facility in 1998 and reported her to the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, but as far as I know, there was no follow-up on the part of USDA.”
In April 2009, Dr. Melinda Merck, ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics, was contacted to help secure an animal cruelty conviction by testifying in Bauck's trial. “The veterinarian working with the prosecution contacted me about one month before the trial started,” recalled Dr. Merck. “I was asked by the prosecutor to review all the video and case files and provide expert opinion.”
On March 24, after a 12-day trial and six hours of deliberation, a jury cleared Bauck of felony charges but found her guilty of four misdemeanors: one count of animal cruelty and three counts of torture.
Bauck was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with 20 days to be served right away. The other 70 days were stayed, meaning Bauck would serve them only if she violated her probation. The judge also sentenced Bauck to 80 hours of community service and ruled that if she planned to continue participating in operating the kennel, she must allow unscheduled inspections—and that inspectors must be allowed entry into all areas.
More than a year after the successful investigation, the federal government closed the kennel down. In January 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the suspension of Bauck’s kennel license for a period of two years. In its final decision and order, the USDA declared Bauck "unfit" to be licensed because she operated the kennel in a criminally improper manner.
Unfortunately, neither the criminal conviction nor the license suspension put Bauck completely out of business. While the USDA license suspension dictates that Bauck can no longer vend animals directly to the public or pet stores, she can continue to sell them online because Internet pet sales are not regulated by the USDA. To learn more about this aspect of the case, visit our puppy mill law page.
To learn more about Dr. Merck and our forensic investigations, visit our Animal CSI section.