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Friday, August 22, 2014

Show Me the Impact: Missouri's Puppy Mill Law, 4 Years Later

State legislatures so far this year have already passed 84 new laws on animal protection—ushering in a wide range of reforms involving felony cruelty penalties, puppy mills, shark finning, exotic pets, fox penning, the ivory trade, and more. That makes more than 1,000 new state animal protection laws on the books since 2005.

Of course, the goal is not just to have new laws on the books, but to see them properly enforced and having the desired practical impact in the field of reducing suffering and saving lives. Nearly four years since the landmark approval by Missouri voters of Proposition B—the first ballot measure campaign to set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations, battled out in the puppy mill capital of America—we can now look back and see the impact the law is having.

P-mill-image-for-blog
The HSUS
Missouri's Prop B set standards for puppy mills.

Although the Missouri legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon weakened some of the key elements of the voter-approved measure before it even had a chance to take effect, what remained intact still makes Missouri’s law one of the strongest anti-puppy mill statutes in the nation. Josh Benson of the Columbia Missourian has authored a remarkable three-part series on commercial dog breeding in Missouri and reports on the impact the new standards have had on dogs confined in puppy mills.

Benson reports in Part 1 that since the statute became law, more than 1,300 dogs have been rescued, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for Prosecution, and more than $25,000 in civil fines were assessed and nine licenses revoked, ranging in length from three to 10 years. He notes, “By contrast, in the 24 months before the law took effect, 10 businesses or individuals were referred to state officials for violating Missouri's animal welfare laws. No civil fines were assessed in those cases.”

Importantly, due to the legislation, “Since 2010, the number of commercial breeders licensed with Missouri's Animal Care Program has dropped from about 1,400 to just over 800, a decline of more than 40 percent, according to data obtained from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.”

Even though the new law was weakened (with input from breeders), it appears to be having the right impact. But the puppy mill apologists still oppose having any standards whatsoever. In Part 2, lobbyist Karen Strange of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said her group opposes animal welfare laws and doesn’t want regulation of breeders. That’s the kind of attitude that undercuts the entire industry because it allows the worst abusers to cut corners and get a free pass.

In Part 3, Benson quotes the animal welfare inspection reports from a breeder who ran a commercial facility in Lawrence County, comparing it to a horror story:

  • "Defendant provided her dogs with dirty, muddy, non-potable water."
  • "Defendant failed to equip her housing facilities with waste water or water drainage systems such that one 3-week-old American Eskimo puppy was observed covered in mud, shivering."
  • "Defendant failed to meet the minimum standards for sanitary flooring by failing to clean her dog pens such that feces had accumulated over time to the point where one could not tell the difference between feces and flooring."
  • "Defendant failed to provide necessary veterinary care to a female blue parti-colored Cocker Spaniel whose left eye was barely visible and oozing liquid and an 11-week-old Cocker Spaniel with a bite wound on its left side."
  • "Defendant failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a male Sheltie that was emaciated and missing most of its body hair after two months of observed infirmity."
  • "Defendant admitted she routinely relied on gunshot as a means of euthanasia. She shot the Sheltie...as a form of euthanasia because it was a 'cheaper option.'"

The breeder was fined $2,500, and her license was revoked for six years. In total, hundreds of puppy mills are now out of business, and hundreds of dogs have been rescued from a life of misery and sent on their way to good, loving homes. In 2016, when additional reforms take effect, commercial breeding operations will be required to increase the space allotments for dogs, and give them constant access to the outdoors for exercise.

That’s a positive thing, and I urge you to check out the Columbia Missourian series online. It’s a great account of the tangible progress made on this front in recent years, just one reason to be encouraged about the prospects for eliminating the worst elements of the puppy mill trade in the United States.

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