As the second worst puppy mill state in the country , Ohio has a problem, and the government is protecting the people behind them.
News 5 found the United States Department of Agriculture is redacting most of the names and businesses they regulate and investigate, making it nearly impossible for those looking for a dog to tell if they're buying one responsibly and from a reliable source.
"Information that used to be public has now been removed," Corey Roscoe, Ohio State Director of The Humane Society of the United States, said.
If you ask the USDA why they have changed the database, the department cites the privacy act. The USDA sent the following statement in an email to News 5:
Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Services is required to redact licensee information to protect personal information.
"They're claiming privacy rights of the breeder," Roscoe said.
So anyone who wants records about enforcement actions of puppy mills or violators names has to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
That can take years.
"Puppy mills are not only an animal welfare crisis, they're also a consumer protection issue," Roscoe said.
But it wasn't always this way. All of the information was once online and easily accessible.
"In early 2017, the USDA took down the database that had inspection reports," John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society's Stop Puppy Mills campaign, said.
News 5 asked USDA employees to address the removed database and the rising concerns in Ohio, but we did not receive an answer Wednesday.
The Humane Society of The United States is currently taking the USDA to court and demanding transparency.
"Nobody is benefiting from this purge of animal welfare inspection reports except the people who don't want anyone to know what they did," Goodwin said.
Goodwin said they believe the lack of transparency with the USDA right now is a multi-prong problem.
"This information should be made available to the public. These are tax payer funded employees, the government, going out there and doing these inspections," Goodwin said. "The general public should have a right to know because the general public is buying puppies that these folks produce."
So, what can you do to avoid puppy mills that are rampant in our state?
"It's difficult for a consumer to know if a breeder has a clean record or a bad record, that's why in all cases the easiest thing to do to avoid supporting a puppy mill is simply refusing to buy a puppy online from a breeder you haven't seen or met," Roscoe said.
News 5 is still waiting on Freedom of Information Act filings submitted to the USDA in an effort to get the names of the problem breeders in Northeast Ohio.
Click here for tips to keep in mind and red flags to look out for when looking for a puppy.