Some of the nation’s most powerful animal-welfare groups are waging war over a proposal to establish new rules for dog breeding in Missouri, a state long known for a high number of so-called “puppy mills.”
On Nov. 2, Missouri voters will be asked to cast ballots on a measure that would establish new regulations for the state’s “large-scale” dog breeding operations. Proposition B, otherwise known as the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, has spurred much debate.
Supporters, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), say the measure is needed to help police Missouri’s large-scale commercial dog breeders and to ensure dogs receive humane care. Opponents, such as the American Kennel Club and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), claim the measure calls for excessive and unnecessary requirements that will ultimately force licensed dog breeders out of business.
The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act would amend the law to require any person who owns more than 10 unaltered female dogs for the purpose of breeding to follow certain standards for feeding, veterinary care, housing, exercise and rest cycles between breeding.
For example, licensed dog breeders would be required to provide each dog with “sufficient space to turn and stretch freely, lie down and fully extend his or her limbs.” Specifically, breeders would have to provide at least 12 square feet of indoor floor space for each dog up to 25 inches long; at least 20 square feet of indoor floor space for each dog between 25 and 35 inches long and at least 30 square feet of indoor floor space for each dog 35 inches long or longer.
No person would be allowed to have custody of more than 50 dogs for the purpose of breeding. Under the proposed statute, a crime of puppy mill cruelty would be considered a misdemeanor.
While laws regulating breeders, such as the federal Animal Welfare Act and Missouri’s Animal Care Facilities Act, are already on the books, Bob Baker, executive director for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said they only require breeders to provide the minimum level of care.
“Prop B aims to raise the standards of care from bare minimum to humane standards of care,” he said.
The Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, along with HSUS, Humane Society of Missouri, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Best Friends Animal Society, make up the Missourians for the Protection of Dogs coalition. The Puppy Mill Prevention Cruelty Act was created with input from coalition members. It ended up on the November ballot as a result of a successful ballot initiative launched by the coalition.
Baker, who has been inspecting breeding facilities for animal welfare organizations for 30 years, said the provisions the coalition came up with are “pretty common sense.”
“I think if you actually visited these facilities, it would only take you 15 minutes to figure out what needs to be done,” he said.
Opponents say many of the proposed housing and care standards are anything but common sense. They claim the provisions are cost-prohibitive, excessive and inconsistent with federal and state requirements. Opponents have also taken aim at the 50 dog limit, claiming there is no correlation between the number of dogs a person owns and the quality of care the animals receive.
Karen Strange, president of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, said if the proposal passes, licensed breeders would be forced to spend money to rebuild their facilities to meet the new “excessive” space requirements. However, she said, their income would be limited because they would not be allowed to keep more than 50 dogs for breeding.
“It’s like any professional business, if you limit what you can derive income from and the expense far exceeds what you can make it will drive you out of business,” she said.
Michael Maddox, vice president of governmental affairs and general counsel for PIJAC, claimed the objective of the proposed statute is to limit the number of animals breeders may have and, thereby, limit the availability of pet dogs.
“Basically, here’s the bottom line — there’s not really anything in this proposal that’s not already required by law, except for extreme requirements that are not necessary and are not supported by science,” Maddox said.
Opponents also maintain that the proposed statute would do nothing to address the state’s unlicensed, substandard breeders.
“The people that have been circumventing recognized, quality standards of care, they’re not going to care about this law,” Maddox said.
Dr. Alan Wessler, a veterinarian and vice president at farmer co-op MFA Inc., sees this proposal as an attempt by HSUS to shut down Missouri’s dog breeding industry.
“You’re adding more costs and you’re making it harder to make a living,” said Wessler, who is a member of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association. “That in essence will shut down the kennel business in Missouri.”
He recommended taking a three-pronged approach to addressing the problem breeders. First, he said, Missouri should increase its enforcement of existing laws that govern the industry. Second, he said the state should place more emphasis on the state’s Operation Bark Alert program, which allows citizens to report kennels with questionable practices or an unknown license status. In its first year, Operation Bark Alert identified more than 200 unlicensed kennels, rescued more than 3,000 dogs and saw 164 fewer breeders in Missouri, according to the state website. Last, Wessler said the state needs to prosecute violators to the fullest.
Baker said the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation expects some breeders to go out of business, but it doesn’t expect the impact to be as dramatic as opponents are claiming.
Stephanie Brown is a Senior News Editor with BowTie Inc., the publisher of DogChannel.com