Pet Love Shack

Washington v. Bergman and Bergman (6/97)

Swen and Jeanette Bergman, the owners of a commercial puppy kennel which ships hundreds of dogs to paying customers, were each charged with 21 counts of second-degree animal cruelty. Investigators claim that the Bergmans grossley mistreated more than 230 dogs.

During a raid of the Bergmans' Mountain Top Kennel in January 1997, sheriff's deputies and dog rescue volunteers found 15 dead canines (12 of which were piled in a mountain of snow). Six other dogs were so sickly, they had to be destroyed, and 19 healthy dogs were destroyed because they were deemed too dangerous to transport safely.

Of the 230 surviving dogs, at least 40 had a documented medical malady. The kennel was pure squalor, seeping with urine and feces and devoid of adequate drinking water and heat to keep the dogs healthy. The Bergmans also faced six additional misdemeanor charges of illegally trimming dogs' ears. If convicted of the charges, both Swen and Jeanette Bergman could face six-year jail sentences.

A Mountain of Complaints

Swen and Jeanette Bergman ran Mountain Top Kennel near Newport, Wash. along the Washington-Idaho border. A series of documented complaints against the Bergmans and their Mountain Top Kennel sparked the investigation into their puppy mill. In October 1995, the Pend Oreille County Sheriff's Department received a complaint from an alleged Mountain Top client, Rodney Guidry, who claimed that he had agreed to pay Jeanette Bergman $900 for a one-and-a half-year-old American bulldog. Instead of show-quality animal, Guidry received a severely underweight two-and-a half-year-old dog. He had to nurse the dog back to health.

Three months later, in January 1996, Marlon Talent of Rison, Ariz., complained to investigators about the Bergmans. Talent had agreed to buy three female and one male Bordeaux mastiffs from Jeanette Bergman for $4,368. He sent her the money and received two female dogs. According to the sheriff's reports, Jeanette allegedly told Talent he would have to send an additional $250 if he wanted the male dog. However, Talent refused, and Mrs. Bergman sent him a different dog. This dog died from parvo, an infectious intestinal disease, while in transit to Talent. Mrs. Bergman then reportedly sent Talent another dog, which was severely underweight. This canine died when Talent took the dog to the vet to have its ears clipped.

Then, two other complaints about the Bergman puppy mill to the sheriff's department in December 1996 made investigators decide to plan a raid on the Mountain Top Kennel. Dr. Randy Tedrow, a veterinarian, had treated a golden retriever puppy for

severe lethargy, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea the day after it had been purchased from the Bergman puppy mill. In Tedrow's letter about the incident, he threatened to petition the state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to shut down the kennel.

Tedrow was very familiar with Jeanette Bergman. Between 1993 and 1996, he had received many complaints about Mrs. Bergman from pet owners who had bought their dogs from Mountain Top Kennel. Tedrow had even treated a dog Bergman had brought to his animal clinic when she lived in Idaho. When Tedrow learned from local papers and authorities that she was on probation for a prior animal-related charge, he began monitoring the complaints he received about the Mountain Top Kennel and Mrs. Bergman.

Two days after Tedrow's complaint, the sheriff's department received a complaint from Deanna Friberg, an English bulldog lover. Friberg had visited the kennel and was appalled at its conditions. She claimed she saw 20 to 30 puppies crammed into one pen, with little shelter or water, sleeping on ice and snow. Friberg said she saw dogs with infected eyes and torn nipples kept in feces-littered pens. After reading this complaint, Pend Oreille's Finest decided to act.

The Raid

With the help of about 40 volunteers recruited mostly by Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue, an organization that saves mistreated dogs and places them in homes, Pend Oreille officials raided Mountain Top Kennel the weekend of Jan. 4-5, 1997. The Bergmans were taken into custody while their three children were placed in a foster home for the weekend.

The dog rescue team agreed that no dog would be destroyed unless its medical condition was so poor that its recovery would be questioned. They also agreed that aggressive dogs would be destroyed only if they could not be safely transported or cared for.

The rescue team reportedly found all the conditions that were illustrated in Deanna Friberg's letter. Urine and feces everywhere. Water bowls filled with solid ice because of below freezing temperatures. Dogs eating snow to quench their thirst. Dogs suffering with untreated fractures and from skin diseases such as mange, roaming around without adequate shelter during a severe winter cold. Authorities expected to find 130 dogs in the kennel; they found nearly twice that amount.

The Trial and Verdict

The non-jury bench trial was tried before Judge Charles Baechler from June 16, 1997 to June 27, 1997. Swen and Jeanette Bergman were convicted of 16 out of the 27 misdemeanor charges. Judge Baechler originally sentenced Jeanette Bergman to a

one-year jail sentence, which was later changed to a 9-month sentence. Swen Bergman was originally sentenced to nine months in jail. However, his sentence was suspended, and he was placed under three months house arrest. Both Bergmans also received various fines and were sentenced to an additional 720 hours of community service.

Approximately 229 of the 230 living dogs removed from the Bergmans' Mountain Top Kennel during the raid reportedly are now living in foster homes throughout Washington State. While the Bergmans awaited trial, animal rescue groups involved in the raid appealed to the public for donations for food and facilities to help nurse the dogs back to health. According to local reports, the rescue groups raised approximately $90,000.