(For the record, neither Carabajal nor the St. Charles Humane Society has been contacted by the Schindlers or faced any legal action since that day.)

Carabajal and Backes aren't the only ones removed from the auction that day, though another ejected offender didn't violate the contract, just the delicate sensibilities of dog breeders.

When a Riverfront Times reporter approaches Herman Schindler, he immediately turns and stalks a few steps away.

Jennifer Silverberg
Located a two-hour drive northwest of St. Louis, Mexico, Missouri, held one of the state’s largest dog-breeding operations. Until October 2010, the entrance to Herman and Bonnie Schindler’s property, seen from the county road at right, was home to nearly 1,000 dogs.
Kase Wickman
Located a two-hour drive northwest of St. Louis, Mexico, Missouri, held one of the state’s largest dog-breeding operations. Until October 2010, the entrance to Herman and Bonnie Schindler’s property, seen from the county road at right, was home to nearly 1,000 dogs.

He returns with a deputy at his side.

"Can I answer a few questions?" he spits. "I've been down this road before, and I'm gonna ask you something: I'm gonna ask you to leave."

Herman Schindler isn't bluffing: He has, in fact, been down this road before.

For nearly 50 years in the business, he and Bonnie operated without much in the way of scrutiny. Sure, there were inspections from both state and local officials, but they never led to much. On average, the Schindlers were visited twice each year from 2000 to 2006, but no significant discipline ever came from the visits.

Then, a volley of shots were fired: FOX 2 came calling in July, and with it the infamous camera-versus-car clash that cemented the Schindlers' status as public villains. Following the report, the Schindlers were allegedly kicked out of their commercial puppy store space in St. Peters, supposedly because the owner of the building had seen the story. (The building owner did not respond to requests seeking comment.) The channel aired several follow-up stories, and the Humane Society of the United States subsequently blasted the Schindlers in its October report.

Bonnie Schindler says that she is reluctant to pick up her phone, for fear that the caller will be an angry person accusing her of running a puppy mill or a reporter who will paint a dark image of her in the press.

Frankly, she's sick of it.

"If you want to print something positive, go ahead," she says one day. "If you want to print something negative, just forget that you've talked to me."

Yet while the Schindlers flaunt their years of spotless inspection reports, that appears to be a symptom of a system-wide problem more than of individual excellence. It wasn't only the Schindlers who prospered for years with minimal oversight.

A May 2010 audit from the USDA's inspector general found that the inspection and subsequent enforcement process were ineffective against problem dealers. Fines and penalties were reduced or made nonexistent to avoid breeders exercising their right to a hearing. The breeders, in turn, wrote off any fines as general operating expenses. "Good faith" reductions in penalties were arbitrarily applied. Not enough evidence was gathered to support claims of noncompliance, such as photographs or specific dogs' microchip numbers.

Rickey, the ASPCA inspector, saw what he called a "broken system" firsthand. Because inspectors had to give the breeders a chance to comply with the law and correct their mistakes, animals could be left in unhealthy situations until the inspector returned for an update.

"We have this horrible lag time between when these things are discovered and reported and when they're finally resolved, if they're ever resolved," he says. "And in the process of that, animals suffer and die every day. It's not acceptable; it's not necessary."

The Better Business Bureau of Missouri agreed. It published its own report, "The Puppy Industry in Missouri," in March 2010, concluding that "Missouri is so overwhelmed by the number of puppy sellers that it can't regulate the puppy industry properly."

Both the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA declined comment for this story.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has only twelve inspectors to oversee some 1,500 licensed breeders and unknowable numbers of unlicensed. Assuming there are around 3,000 total breeders in the state (the most common estimate), each inspector would have to visit 250 facilities per year, one for every single working day. This math, of course, discounts the time it takes to identify unlicensed breeders.

Making matters worse, many licensed breeders require follow-up visits to ensure that noncompliant items are rectified. For example, between September 2009 and their final inspection in July 2010, the Schindlers were visited seven times by state and federal inspectors.

Bonnie Schindler sees the flurry of inspections, some that suddenly noted as many as 50 noncompliant items, as a sign that her business was targeted by puppets of the Humane Society.

"We had no noncompliants for time after time after time," she protests.

Records show, however, that even before the Humane Society call-out and FOX 2's targeted reports, another agency had its eye on the Schindlers: the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

In an October 2009 internal memo from Matt Rold, program coodinator for Animal Care Facilities Act, to his USDA inspection counterparts, Rold urged a crackdown on the Schindlers.

"As we discussed earlier in the week, the conditions at Herman and Bonnie Schindler's kennel are well below the [Animal Welfare Act] and ACFA standards," he writes.

The report that caught Rold's eye had been conducted a few days before. It detailed fourteen pages of violations, while a report dated six months before, and indeed, the previous three years of inspection reports, showed no violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

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