Posted on 08/09/2010 in Your Dog, Your Rights.
This month’s column will provide an update on some very active spring/early summer sessions in state legislatures, city councils, and even at the federal level. The central theme to all of this legislation is regulation and restriction on breeder’s rights. So-called ‘puppy mill’ bills are being pushed by animal rights groups all across the country. While none of us as responsible dog owners condone any sort of neglect or abuse, the problem with many of these laws is that they will end up negatively impacting responsible breeders. Current anti-cruelty laws, if enforced correctly, should in most cases be adequate to prosecute wrong doers instead of inflicting arbitrary restrictions and unnecessary fees on the responsible breeders.
City of New Orleans
The City of New Orleans has passed a spay and neuter ordinance. While this new law does not make spaying or neutering of dogs mandatory, it does require owners of intact dogs (over 6 months of age) to obtain an intact dog permit. This in itself is really nothing new. Many cities/counties/municipalities across the country have a slightly higher fee for intact dog licenses versus altered dog licenses. However, this goes beyond simply a higher fee for a license for an intact dog; it requires owners of intact dogs to apply for a special permit for the ‘privilege’ of owning an intact dog.
In order to obtain an intact dog permit, an owner must provide:
- · a written description of the dog
· proof of current vaccinations-rabies, distemper, and parvovirus
· photo of the dog
· photo of the dog’s living conditions
· proof of microchip.
The new ordinance also states that females may not be bred before they are 18 months of age, and that they cannot have more than 1 litter per year. I’d like to know how exactly this is going to be enforced. There is nothing in the ordinance that regulates litters other than this portion; there are no requirements that litters be registered in some way. Neither does it provide for any exceptions such as accidental litters. The ordinance requires that breeders display their intact dog permit number when selling puppies, but it does not specify whether it must be sire or dam or both. If it is both sire and dam, what if either dog is outside the jurisdiction? Violations of the ordinance will result in $100 per dog for the first violation, and up to $250 per dog for the second violation. Third time violations and beyond will call for impoundment of the dog and up to $500 fine. Additionally, the owner must pay a surgery deposit or obtain an intact permit within 10 days or they will have to relinquish the dog. This may be an unconstitutional taking as no hearing opportunity is given to the owner. Frankly, this new ordinance may result in more dogs in the shelters for lower income dog owners who cannot afford spay or neuter surgeries and choose to relinquish their dogs instead of paying fines.
Despite fierce opposition from dog owners, breeders, and other groups, the Oklahoma “Commercial Pet Breeders Act” was unfortunately passed. It’s a very vague and open-ended law that leaves many portions to be yet defined or even created. The law empowers an 8-member “Board of Commercial Breeders” that will create specific application procedures and requirements, license renewal requirements, license revocations or denials, and qualifications and training for inspectors. The Board will also list all licensed commercial pet breeders on their website. While the Board will have 8 members, there will only be one representative of the dog or cat breeders with an initial term of 1 year, yet the “animal welfare” member will have an initial term of 2 years. All members will be appointed by the governor.
The definition of what breeders will be considered commercial breeders and therefore need licensed is very vague and ambiguous under the new law. A commercial breeder is defined as someone with 11 or more adult intact females. It’s no more specific than that. It does not define what an adult intact female is other than a female capable of reproduction, and does not give any sort of age minimum. It also does not define the 11 dog number—is that 11 dogs at one time, over a year’s time, or over a lifetime? Nor does it state anywhere that the “commercial breeder” is even someone who breeds animals at all—they may just be a dealer but considered a breeder under the law!
While the law states that the Board will establish the license application requirements, it does currently state that anyone convicted of a crime will be denied, refused, or revoked a license. Again, the definition is vague and ambiguous. Does this mean a conviction within the person’s lifetime? What if they were convicted in another state? Most disconcerting is that this license requirement strongly suggests that a criminal background check and possible fingerprinting will be a part of the license application process. An initial kennel inspection will also be part of the application process. Kennels will further be subjected to at the very least, annual inspection, with no notice. They may also be investigated or inspected based on any complaints....I can see this leading to harassment because of baseless complaints.
All ‘commercial breeders’ must display their license conspicuously, and also must include their license number in all advertisements and contracts. Breeders must make a report by February 1 each year the number of adult intact animals at their facility at the end of the prior year. Yet again, another ambiguous term—at what date is the breeder to calculate that number? Is it the amount of intact dogs they have on December 31? Or the number of intact dogs for the past year, January 1 through December 31? Standards of care for breeders have not yet been enacted, but will later be created by the Board. All that is currently in the law is that breeders must keep health records for dogs but no records of sources for dogs. Violations will result in up to a $500 fine and/or up to one year in jail. Breeders that hinder an investigation or inspection will receive up $1000 fine and/or two years in jail.
An act to be known as “Charlemagne’s law” has been introduced in New York, and as of May 18, 2010 is being held for consideration in the agriculture committee. If enacted, the new law would change the current definition of ‘pet dealer’ to include breeders who sell or offer for sale more than FIVE animals per year (it was previously more than nine). The majority of dog breeders in the state of New York would fall into this definition, and thus fall under regulation. The current law provides an exception for hobby breeders, and excuses those who sell less than 25 dogs that are born or raised on the breeder’s premises. The proposed law would only excuse those who sell less than 10 per year. For many breeds, this is less than one litter.
All pet dealers would be subject to inspection of their ‘animal facility,’ which is defined as ‘any area built, installed, or designed to serve as a breeding or maintaining area for animals.’ If a small-time hobby breeder that keeps dogs in the home falls into the pet dealer definition, then their home itself may be subject to inspection, which is ludicrous. A peace officer or animal control officer may take enforcement action based on any oral or written complaint. That is a bit scary because any individual could make frivolous complaints simply to harass the breeder. The proposed law also adds the new definition of ‘commercial kennel’, which is any kennel that transfers any dogs to a pet dealer, or sells/transfers more than 60 dogs per year. These ‘commercial kennels’ must follow strict confinement regulations and specific lighting and temperature requirements. Dogs kept in a commercial kennel will be required to be examined by a vet at least once every 180 days.
City officials in Hollister, California have been given the green light to draft an ordinance that would require mandatory spay/neuter of ‘pit bulls and Chihuahuas.’ The city reports a population explosion of Chihuahuas and an alleged increase in ‘pit bull’ attacks. I put ‘pit bull’ in quotations because we all know how very loosely that term is thrown around in the media. How many of these alleged attacks were actually pit bulls and not misidentification of breed or mix is not known. The animal control supervisor attributes the cause of the attacks to the dogs being intact—that’s ridiculous to use sexual reproduction status as the sole reason for dog attacks! Many factors can contribute to dog attacks—dogs roaming loose, abused dogs, provocation, neglect, etc.
Requiring all ‘pit bulls’ to be spayed or neutered is not going to stop attacks. Tighter dog owner responsibility laws or even stronger enforcement of current laws would have more impact than requiring spay or neuter. The animal control supervisor even admits in a news article that they have experienced “a surge in dog bites and dog attacks arising from dogs running at large.” So, why not instead write a law that is tougher on dog owners that let their dogs roam? The ordinance has not been drafted yet, but it will be interesting to see how it is written. California state dog law specifically states that “no program regulating any dog shall be specific as to breed.” However, an exception is hidden in the health and safety code: “cities and counties may enact dog breed-specific ordinances pertaining only to mandatory spay or neuter programs and breeding requirements, provided that no specific dog breed, or mixed dog breed, shall be declared potentially dangerous or vicious under those ordinances.” How the ordinance will require spay or neuter of ‘pit bulls’ due to an alleged rise in attacks without deeming them dangerous or vicious remains to be seen.
A bill has been proposed in Rhode Island seeking to amend the state dog law. So far the law has passed in the Senate and been referred to the House Judiciary for review. One of the first issues with this bill is that it defines the term ‘guardian’ as interchangeable with the term owner. The term ‘guardian’ is problematic as it implies less, if any, legal rights than the term owner does. ‘Guardian’ is typically used in reference to people that have guardianship over children or incapacitated persons. Those guardians have no legal rights over the children; merely they can make decisions on their behalf. If they are found to not be making decision in the best interest of the person they have guardianship over, they can lose status as guardian and a new guardian may be appointed. Also, the subject of the guardianship, whether it be child or incapacitated person, still has full legal rights as any other person. That’s why calling a dog owner a guardian is scary—it implies the term is being used to preserve potential legal rights for the dog.
The amendment would also make it so dogs cannot be “outside tethered, penned, caged, fenced, or otherwise confined without access to an outdoor housing facility for more than an hour” unless the person in charge of the dog is with the dog. An outdoor housing facility is basically a structure such as a dog house, barn, garage, or shed. Dogs also will not be permitted to be tethered on anything less than 6 feet or for more than 10 hours (assuming that’s with access to an outdoor housing facility) in a 24 hour period. Further, dogs may not be kept “in a pen, cage, or other outdoor housing structure” for more than 14 hours in a 24 hour period. So, does this mean dogs may not be kept in kennels and dog runs? Are they all to be brought into the house? I have seen kennel set ups that are nicer than my house; yet it appears from the proposed amendment that even these modern, insulated, technologically advanced kennel buildings would still be considered an outdoor housing facility, which is preposterous! And if the guardianship and sheltering requirements weren’t enough, the new amendment also grants authority not just to local animal control, but also to the RISPCA (a private, non-governmental organization) to examine dogs and enter the premises! I sense potential constitutional issues with granting a private party the authority to enter private property.
A very badly written ‘commercial breeder’ bill was introduced and passed out of the North Carolina senate last fall. At time of deadline for this column, the bill was sitting in the House Finance Committee, but was pulled from consideration. However, without enough opposition, it could reappear and could be passed into law. The proposed law defines a ‘commercial breeder’ as someone who has 15 or more intact females and 30 or more puppies. It does not specify a time frame---is that number 15 over a lifetime, at any given time, or over a year’s time? If passed, the bill will require all commercial breeders to register as such (at least those who can figure out if they fall within the definition.) The bill does provide an exception for “kennels or establishments operated for the purpose of boarding or training hunting, sporting, herding, show, or working dogs.” Note however that the exception only states “boarding or training,” but nothing about breeding for hunting, sporting, herding, etc.
Federal-US Senate Bill 3424, Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act “PUPS”
A new federal bill has been introduced that would amend the current Animal Welfare Act “to provide further protection for puppies.” The Animal Welfare Act was originally created as a licensing system for dealers and animal research facilities. The AWA was in response to concerns not only about the care and conditions for research animals, but also where research animals were being purchased from. Thus the AWA was first a law to ensure care standards for laboratory animals, documentation of animals being sold for research, and to attempt to stop the problem of dogs being stolen and then sold into research. The AWA later developed to also protect animals in entertainment and to regulate ‘wholesale’ dog breeders and dealers. Breeders that sell to the public and do not sell to research facilities, exhibitors (like circuses), dealers, or pet stores do not fall into the purview of the AWA. Retail pet stores are also exempt from AWA.
The new PUPS legislation would broaden the AWA to affect some breeders. PUPS would add the definition of ‘high volume retail breeders” to the list of those that must be licensed, inspected, and regulated. A ‘high volume retail breeder’ is defined as a breeder that ‘has ownership interest in or custody of 1 or more breeding females’ and sells more than ’50 of the offspring of such female dogs for use as pets in any 1 yr period.’ These breeders would be considered a dealer under the AWA and the retail pet store exemption would not apply. The PUPS bill would also make new exercise requirements in addition to the already existing requirements of the AWA. Each dog (unless exempted) over 12 weeks old must have daily exercise where the dog moves sufficiently to develop or maintain normal muscle tone, allows the dog to run, and is not a forced activity. Excuse me—what’s wrong with ‘forced activity?’ Most of the ways I condition my very fit and happy dogs is through ‘forced activity;’ we play a lot of Chuck-it, disc, and water retrieves. Last I checked, my dogs can’t get enough of any of those activities! Dogs may be exempted from the exercise regiment if documented by a vet, but the exemption is subject to review and the vet’s recommendation can be overridden.
These ‘puppy mill’ or ‘commercial breeder’ bills are creeping in all over the country. The animal rights groups are on the move, attacking not only dog breeders but the agricultural industry as well. Thanks to a federal court decision in Ohio allowing out of state persons to assist in gathering signatures, HSUS will most likely obtain enough signatures to get their farm initiative on the ballot in the fall. If the measure is passed, it may crush the farming industry in Ohio. If you see any questionable legislation in your state or local jurisdiction, voice your concerns. For more information on getting involved, go to http://www.ukcdogs.com/WebSite.nsf/WebPages/ComWhatCanYouDo. I can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.