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American Veterinary Medical Association--Are they turning their backs on dog breeders?
Posted on 09/09/2010 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Recently the American Veterinary Medical Association announced a model bill aimed at regulating dog breeders. As these bills have been being pushed in many states across the nation in the past year or two, AVMA has decided to jump on board. The result is a bill that not only over-regulates responsible hobby breeders but also contains many sections that are just downright insulting. The bill is quite lengthy, so I’ll only cover some of the worst sections, but suffice it to say that nothing about the bill bodes well for dog breeders, and does not promise any sort of support or protection from AVMA with regards to dog owners’ rights.

I’ll preface this with my feelings and beliefs on these commercial breeder bills. I think they stink—they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. Animal rights groups get these bills pushed through by screaming ‘puppy mill’ at legislators and selling it with the notion it’s all about dog welfare. Most of these bills, if passed, will end up hurting responsible hobby breeders, and even putting many out of business. One of the things on the animal rights agenda is to stop all animal breeding period, and putting all dog breeders out of business is the ultimate goal. Now, I certainly don’t want any dogs to suffer in the deplorable conditions some ‘puppy mills’ have, but these laws are not going to fix that problem. Between cruelty/neglect laws, and local kennel inspections and licensing, use of those laws should be enough to take action against the bad seeds. There is simply no need to micromanage dog breeding. I think the government has more important issues to worry about than to criminalize dog breeding. It’s all getting a little too big brother for me.

The bill is allegedly intended to provide basic standards of care for dog breeders, but one can see after reading this bill that it’s anything but basic. I won’t even get into the stringent yet also abstract care regulations—including requiring different forms of “enrichment” and “opportunity to partake in species-specific behavior”—HUH?! In the “Background and Context” document accompanying the bill, AVMA even admitted that “most facilities meet or exceed this level of care.” If this is the case, then why would legislation such as this even be necessary? The bill regulates “high-volume breeders” and “high volume retailers.” According to AVMA, a “high volume breeder” is one that whelps more than 6 litters in a year. Where does this number come from? AVMA cites AKC as defining “high volume breeders.” I have a real problem with defining whether a breeder is good or bad by the number of pups they produce in a year. Numbers don’t mean a thing. The number of pups whelped per year is in no way relative to the welfare of dogs belonging to the breeder. A person can just as easily neglect or abuse one dog as they can sixty dogs. I know a very reputable breeder of hunting dogs that whelped seven litters this year simply due to client demand. The breeder does not advertise, his dogs are sought after due to word of mouth and the dogs speak for themselves-they are fantastic. The breeder screens all buyers, and buyers must sign a contract agreeing the pup must come back to the breeder should it ever become unwanted. The pups are hand raised, and his kennel is impeccable—some dogs even live in the house. Is he a ‘bad’/commercial breeder/ puppy mill simply because of the number of dogs he’s bred this year? On the flip side, there’s a woman down the road who has started breeding some toy breed dogs, and probably has a maximum of 10 dogs total. The dogs live in a rusty wire pen, uncovered and unsheltered from the elements, and are left out all night in any kind of weather. Yet, under this bill the responsible breeder would be negatively labeled and regulated, and the woman breeding toy dogs whose welfare may be questionable would not be covered under the bill at all.

AVMA defines a high volume retailer as any person who sells more than 50 dogs per year “to pet stores, breeders, kennels, and dealers, and sale, resale, and transfer that occur via the internet.” The definition of person includes shelters and rescues. I completely agree that shelters and rescues should be subject to the same regulations. Rescuing and adoption is now so in vogue that it’s become subject to abuse and fraud by unscrupulous individuals posing as ‘rescues’ and the like. However, this definition of a high-volume breeder is a perfect illustration of one of my biggest pet peeves with these types of laws: vague, arbitrary, and unclear definitions. How are the 50 dogs sold to be measured? Do all 50 dogs being transferred have to fall into the categories of pet stores, breeders, kennels, and dealers? What if a breeder sells 49 dogs to the public and 2 to a kennel within a year---are they a high volume dog retailer? Further, it does not define what a sale via the internet actually entails. Most breeders have websites—if the breeder is contacted ‘via the internet’ and later sells a pup due to that contact, does that count as a sale ‘via the internet?’ While I agree that there are plenty of unethical breeders that hide behind pretty websites, that in itself does not define or make a breeder automatically suspicious in my book.

The bill provides that any high volume breeder or retailer must be inspected before being licensed. First of all, most municipalities/counties/townships already inspect ALL kennels regardless of amount of dogs being produced (and includes boarding kennels) and should be able to catch any neglect or cruelty issues. Secondly, the bill loosely defines inspectors as ‘any person’ who is employed by the “Board”—this could be an actual government worker or it could be an HSUS inspector contracted by the “Board”, which is a terrifying thought. Third, most hobby breeders have their kennels at their private residence, and requiring these inspections would be in blatant disregard of the 4th Amendment. Hobby breeders’ residences would be open to unannounced, warrantless inspections! In my opinion, this portion of the bill would not withstand a constitutional challenge because of the 4th Amendment violation.

AVMA’s model bill that claims to be about animal welfare also provides that any person convicted of any law pertaining to animal cruelty within one year of application for a breeder license will be denied a license. Where does this random number of one year come from? If this model law is truly about animal welfare, how does one year from conviction of animal cruelty rehabilitate a person such that they are capable of caring for and breeding dogs? According to this model law, Michael Vick would be licensed to run a pit bull breeding kennel because it’s been more than one year since he was convicted for dog fighting and cruelty! The law does not provide how these convictions are to be discovered, but implies that a criminal background check will be part of the application process. When I tell non-dog people about potential criminal background checks being required for dog breeding, they just laugh at me like I’m making this stuff up. I wish it was only a joke.

The model law provides for some very basic and rudimentary processes for revocation or suspension of a license. It doesn’t sound as if hearings are provided for with regards to all violations, only when there are enough violations or the violations are so severe that the Director determines suspension or revocation is necessary. That is incredibly unfair and unjust, if the license holder cannot contest each violation that he/she is accused of. Basically, this means that an animal rights fanatic that’s against breeding could make up countless unfounded complaints, until the license is called into question, and then the breeder has to defend the violations collectively? That spits in the face of the American justice system and the traditional notion of due process.

Further, the model law does not explain exactly what a ‘suspension’ entails. It simply states that a suspended facility must close during the suspension, period. Well, what does ‘closed’ mean? Does it mean the breeder cannot actively breed dogs during the suspension time? Or can they not have dogs on the premises at all? If this is the case, where are the dogs to go during the suspension time? The bill also states that any person working for a breeder whose license has been suspended or revoked, and was “responsible for or participated in the violations(s)” will not be permitted to obtain a license during the breeder’s suspension period. Here is yet another vague and unclear section of the model law that leaves many questions. How is it to be determined if the employee was responsible for or participated in the violation—are they to be given a separate hearing, as they should?

One of the biggest problems I have with this model bill is the section requiring veterinary approval for breeding. Are you kidding me? Now dog breeders would not be able to make their breeding plan themselves, but will have to be approved by a vet? There are so many things wrong with this. While I have the utmost respect for the veterinary profession, most vets are not dog breeders, and outside of their medical knowledge, know nothing about pedigrees, bloodlines, breed standards, etc. Not only that, but general practitioners are pretty far from reproductive/breeding specialists and should not really speak to much more than the overall health of the dog. In fact, and I know this first hand as my younger sister recently graduated vet school, many young vet students are being pressured into the spay/neuter mentality, and will try to talk clients out of breeding. I’ve experienced this myself, as I left my previous vet because she tried to lecture me about getting my 16 week old male show prospect neutered. If this next generation of vets are to be the Nazis of breeding, the purebred dog population will dwindle.

On the flip side, other less scrupulous vets may see this as a money making venture. They could take advantage of owners and require unnecessary testing and screening, at great cost to the owner, before giving their blessing for the breeding. The law specifically states that a “dog shall not be bred if a veterinarian determines the dog is unfit for breeding purposes.” What does “unfit” mean? It’s one thing if unfit describes an unhealthy bitch whose health would be endangered if she were impregnated. However, it’s a whole new can of worms if a veterinarian can write off a dog as unfit because in their opinion it’s not worthy of reproducing, or the veterinarian does not like that particular breed of dog. I’m sorry, but this section of this law is absolutely ridiculous. Veterinarians do not know better than dog fanciers, some who have spent their whole lives contributing to the improvement of their breed they are so passionate about, when it comes to breeding decisions.

The fact that AVMA has come out with such a ridiculous commercial breeder bill is quite troublesome. It seems as if they are falling somewhat prey to pressure from the AR groups. Between this bill and AVMA’s official stance against tail docking/ear cropping, they are truly beginning to alienate dog breeders. AR pressure seems to be the only reason—dog breeders do nothing but generate income for veterinarians, and quite honestly, this is a stab in the back. I urge you to contact AVMA and express your concerns over this bill and their apparent alienation of dog breeders.

American Veterinary Medical Association
1931 North Meacham Road, Suite 100
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360