Sick, Lethargic Dogs Denied Veterinary Care at Howell County Puppy Mill; PETA Seeks Criminal Probe

For Immediate Release:
June 12, 2024

Sara Groves 202-483-7382

Howell County, Mo.

Damning, just-released federal reports reveal that Rocky Top K-9’s—a puppy mill near West Plains operated by Ellen Roberts that confined over 150 dogs as of last month—has been cited by federal officials for denying dogs veterinary care and housing them in filthy enclosures. In response, PETA rushed a letter today to Howell County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Hutchings asking him to investigate the facility and file applicable charges against those responsible for the animals’ neglect.

According to the reports, on May 6 federal inspectors found a “very thin” dog with her six puppies—four “appeared lethargic” and one was underweight and had diarrhea—in an enclosure caked with waste and grime and teeming with flies. Roberts hadn’t sought veterinary treatment for any of them. On February 22, the inspector found a dog with an untreated eye injury. On October 31, she found dogs with their young puppies in “excessively dirty” enclosures—one so filled with feces that it was “difficult for the dogs to avoid stepping in” it—as well as dogs deprived of bedding in 41-degree temperatures.

Reports dating back to 2014 reveal that Roberts has accrued citations for 51 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in just over 10 years, including for housing dogs in rundown, feces-filled enclosures; denying them bedding in below-freezing weather; underweight dogs; dogs with untreated medical conditions, including coughs, open wounds, eye injuries, ear and skin conditions, and flystrike; and flea, tick, and rodent infestations.

“At miserable mills like Rocky Top K-9’s, dogs are confined in filthy conditions, denied proper care, and treated as nothing but commodities to be churned out as cheaply as possible,” says PETA Vice President of Legal Advocacy Daniel Paden. “PETA calls on Howell County authorities to prosecute those responsible and urges everyone never to buy any animal from a breeder or a pet store.”

PETA is pursuing charges under state law because the federal government doesn’t render relief or aid to animals during its inspections and these violations carry no criminal or civil penalties. While several states have recently banned the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores, Missouri legislators have introduced bills—backed by Petland, a notorious purveyor of dogs from puppy mills—that prohibit city and county governments from banning or restricting pet stores’ puppy sales. Missouri has repeatedly been ranked as the worst state for abuse and neglect of animals in puppy mills.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—points out that Every Animal Is Someone and offers free Empathy Kits for people who need a lesson in kindness. For more information, please visit or follow the group on X, Facebook, or Instagram.

PETA’s letter to Hutchings follows.

June 12, 2024

The Honorable Michael P. Hutchings

Prosecuting Attorney

Howell County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Dear Mr. Hutchings:

I’m writing to request that your office (and the proper law-enforcement agency, as you deem appropriate) investigate and file criminal charges as suitable against those responsible for the persistent neglect of dogs at Rocky Top K-9’s, a puppy-breeding facility operated by Ellen Roberts at 1261 State Route 14 near West Plains. PETA urges investigators to visit the facility with a veterinarian who has expertise in canine health and welfare so that the veterinarian can identify any animals in need of care and opine on the conditions of and for the approximately 157 dogs confined there.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector accompanied by a veterinary medical officer documented neglect at the facility in the attached reports. On May 6, she found a dog who was “very thin.” Her “ribs and vertebrae were easily seen,” and she had a “distinct abdominal tuck.” Four of her puppies “appeared lethargic.” One of them “had watery, yellow diarrhea,” and another “was thin with easily seen ribs.” Roberts had not had a veterinarian examine or evaluate any of the dogs for these conditions. The enclosure confining them “had excessive waste and grime on the floors,” and a blanket there was “stained with dried diarrhea.” There was so much filth that it “was attracting numerous flies.”

On February 22, another dog had “yellow discharge over the left eye.” The cornea was “blue, opaque and appeared to have a roughened area,” and the dog “was squinting and avoiding sunlight.” She had not received veterinary care for her condition. On October 31, 2023, the inspector found that most enclosures in one building were “excessively dirty,” with “excessive feces and other grime and brown material” in two pens housing dogs and their puppies. There was so much excrement in one enclosure that it was “difficult for the dogs to avoid stepping in” it. Two other enclosures “had excessive grime on the exposed wood of the dog door frame.” The inspector also found that an enclosure confining a dog with her young puppies had “an excessive amount of flies … including numerous dead flies.” The same day, another dog had “no bedding material,” even though the temperature was approximately 41 degrees.

All these findings may violate Missouri’s prohibition against animal neglect, RSMo § 578.009.

In addition, beyond the statute of limitations for this offense, you may recall that we previously reported to you that in May 2022, the inspector found at least 18 dogs confined amid an “excessive amount of feces,” some of which was “obviously several days old.” The same day, she found a poodle in a wire enclosure so small that its top was just 2 inches above the dog’s head. In January 2022—when overnight lows were below freezing—the inspector found six dogs provided with just two doghouses and three dogs who required veterinary evaluation. In January 2018, seven outdoor shelters lacked sufficient bedding in temperatures below freezing—leaving at least one dog shivering. In August 2017, three dogs with open wounds—and a fourth who was gagging—were found to have been denied veterinary care. In February 2017, at least six shelters lacked bedding and an “excessively thirsty” dog was found with an “empty and completely dry” water bucket. In December 2016, two enclosures had “excessive grime and mud.” Stretching from July 2016 back to February 2014, 12 more dogs required veterinary care, while nursing dogs and their puppies were found confined to a building where the temperature reached 94 degrees.

The USDA’s action renders no aid or relief whatsoever to animals on site, carries no criminal or civil penalties, and doesn’t preempt criminal liability under state law for acts of cruelty to animals. If you’d like to learn more about the USDA’s findings, please see the contact information for the office in Riverdale, Maryland, here. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please let us know if we can assist you.


Elise Fisher

Evidence Analyst

Cruelty Investigations Department


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