Bad News for Texas
Posted on 06/09/2011 in Your Dog, Your Rights.
by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel
As of press time, a bad little piece of legislation in Texas has made it through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. A few columns back I warned of so-called ‘puppy mill’ bills being introduced across the country and this is one of them. When this bill was initially filed in February, no one really thought it would go anywhere—I mean, come on, we’re talking about TEXAS here! Unfortunately, it has some powerful animal rights backing, and has gotten fast tracked right through the House. There are three weeks left in the legislative session, and let’s hope it does not get the same treatment in the Senate, but will instead at least become tabled until the next session.
In the meantime, I will discuss some talking points of this bill to give you Texans ideas for talking with Senators, and talking points for future ‘puppy mill’ bills in other states that will certainly follow. First of all, HB 1451 seeks to regulate commercial, high volume breeders that let dogs live in neglect and unhealthy conditions. None of us condone dog cruelty, and UKC supports sensible legislation that protects dogs. However, UKC cannot support laws that negatively affect responsible breeders and don’t serve to meet the objective of protecting dogs. HB 1451 is precisely that. Any dog owner that has 11 or more adult intact female animals and “is engaged in the business or breeding those animals for direct or indirect sale or for exchange” would come under the purview of this law. It’s later stated in the bill that there is a “presumption of use for breeding,” meaning that each intact adult female in the kennel will be presumed to be used for breeding purposes. As I’ve stated in the past, the issues is quality of care for the dogs, not quantity of dogs owned. There would be less of an issue of defining commercial kennels by numbers only IF there was an exception for show, performance, working, hunting, and training kennels. However, this bill does not provide any exception for show, performance, working, hunting, and training kennels; as such, they would be included as commercial kennels.
What’s the impact of being a commercial kennel? Well, in addition to any already existing local kennel regulations and also federal Animal Welfare Act regulations that apply to certain kennels, the kennels falling under this definition will be subject to additional state regulations and will be required to be licensed by the state. It’s complete overkill. The bill grants power to the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation (and what does that group know about dog breeding and care?) to later come up with rules and fees once the bill is enacted. In essence, the legislative process will be bypassed for the amount that kennels will have to pay in inspection and licensing fees, and also rules and mandates that they will have to follow to stay in compliance. All applicants for a license will have to undergo a criminal background check. Any criminal conviction, guilty plea, or deferred judgment would be fair game for examination during the application process. I find it hard to believe that most non-animal related crimes are relevant to one’s ability to properly care for and breed dogs; the Commission would be greatly overstepping its bounds here.
The Commission would also be granted the power to create and maintain a disciplinary database. The database would be available to the public and would display all breeders/kennels subject to disciplinary action. The bill does not define precisely what ‘disciplinary action’ is, which makes the database idea a bit troubling. For instance, if a kennel has unfounded nuisance complaints lodged with the Commission, would that be publicly listed? If that were the case, anyone with an agenda or personal vendetta could easily slander a kennel by making false complaints. It’s just yet another area of this bill that is ambiguous and needs clarification.
Kennels, breeders, and dog owners affected by this bill would be subject to many inspections. An initial inspection is required upon application for a license (and remember fees for these are as yet undetermined!), an inspection every 18 months to follow, and “other times as necessary.” Other than the initial inspection, all other inspections do not require notice and inspectors can show up unannounced. Most disturbing is the fact that inspectors may enter the private residence of the breeder if anything relevant to the inspection, such as documents, are contained within. That is clearly a violation of the 4th Amendment protection against search and seizure without a warrant. Intruding into and inspecting a breeder’s home unannounced, without cause, is completely unacceptable. One of the most frustrating aspects of the bill is that kennels already licensed by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act are excluded from the initial inspection. Other kennels cannot even apply for a license without an inspection, but USDA licensed kennels must be considered acceptable and up to par. That illustrates to me that Texas finds the USDA inspections sufficient assurance that the kennels meet standards. Why, then, the need for this new law, as true commercial kennels (those that sell pets to retail) are already sufficiently regulated?
The bill further allows for ‘investigations’ of complaints but provides no process on how they should be carried out. It does state that any animal cruelty should be reported to local law enforcement. Take that coupled with the fact rules are to be enacted in the future and it’s unclear as to what, exactly, will be inspected or investigated. For that matter, the bill provides no kind of due process whatsoever. There are no provisions on how disciplinary matters are to be handled, and how kennels are to be heard before their breeding license is suspended or revoked. No appeals process is given either.
HB 1451 will do so little to actually protect dogs, and is so outweighed by the negative impact it will have on responsible breeders and dog owners that it must be dismissed. Many responsible breeders will either move to another state or close up shop, particularly if the fees for licensing and inspections are high. The fiscal report has found the annual cost will be approximately $1.3 million dollars, and what state can afford that? With local, state, and federal laws already in place, this bill is completely unnecessary and will only harass and punish responsible breeders. It will come at a great cost to the state, not only to enforce, but also due to its negative impact on the dog industry in the state of Texas.
I urge all Texas dog owners to contact their Senators as soon as possible and respectfully ask that they oppose this bill. For a list of Senators, please go to: