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'Puppy Mill' Bills: Coming Soon to YOUR State!
Posted on 04/09/2011 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

The 2011 legislative session has started off with a bang for dog owners. It’s only the beginning of March, and quite an array of anti-dog legislation has been introduced, from breed specific legislation to NYC’s not very well thought out tethering law. Most prevalent have been the anti-breeder laws, or ‘puppy mill bills’ in several states. At press time, breeder legislation has been proposed in at least 5 states, with others waiting in the wings. These bills are the result of the kind of pressure and propaganda that lead to overreaction by civilians and lawmakers. Lawmakers are led to believe that ‘puppy mills’ are taking over, dog breeding is bad, and that creating these licensing/regulation schemes are the only resolution. These bills are usually presented to unsuspecting legislators as ‘saving puppies’ and a way to win favor with voters. What lawmaker is going to say no to a law that ‘saves puppies?’ Very few, if we as dog owners don’t speak up.

Let’s look a little closer at the issue. So what is a ‘puppy mill’? How is a ‘puppy mill’ defined under the law? Well, there’s no real answer or clear definition. Basically, ‘puppy mill’ is an emotional term no doubt coined by animal rights proponents. It was first used in connection with kennels that were indiscriminately breeding dogs in horrible conditions. That was so successful that activists have applied the term to anyone who produces a large number of puppies regardless of conditions, and impressed upon the public that all dog breeders are bad! Large-scale dog breeding came into existence in the US after World War II. Farmers were encouraged by the USDA to raise dogs as crops to be sold in retail when issues arose with normal crops. Due to the greater availability of purebred dogs, the sale of dogs in retail expanded, and the demand for purebred pet dogs exploded with the baby boom. Large-scale kennels have flourished since that time.

The term ‘puppy mill’ has been around so long that it has become commonplace, and many of these bills even contain the term ‘puppy mill’ in the title. The term is so ambiguous and indefinable that no two states’ breeder bills look alike in their definitions. They all have one commonality though: they seem to attempt to define ‘puppy mills’ purely through numbers. Looking at the currently proposed legislation:

        · West Virginia: 11 or more intact dogs
        · Nebraska: 4 or more intact dogs or cats
        · Hawaii: 20 or more intact FEMALE dogs over 6 months old
        · Texas: 11 or more intact FEMALE dogs 6 months or older
        · St Joseph, Missouri: 3 or more intact dogs of ANY AGE

Isn’t that quite a ridiculous range? Of course, these laws don’t use the actual term ‘puppy mill’ in trying to define it, but use the term ‘commercial breeder’ which has become synonymous with ‘puppy mill’ to the general public. This clearly illustrates what a major issue it is to attempt to legally define a puppy mill by numbers alone. Considering the bills I’ve seen over the past year, 11 seems to be an average number, but as to whether the number should apply to only intact females or intact dogs of both sexes is widely varied. Many of these bills put a cap on the number of dogs that can be owned as well.

Why all this focus on numbers if the central issue is the welfare of the dogs? Well, many of these bills are drafted by activists that would probably like to see ALL dog breeding eliminated completely. It isn’t really even about welfare for them. ‘Puppy mill’ laws would create another tool to persecute responsible dog breeders. These bills have a lot of common threads. They typically contain regulations for feeding, containment, and exercise that range from incredibly strict to very arbitrary and unclear to some downright absurd. Some of the housing regulations would require breeders to rebuild. Most bills would require at least an initial inspection; some would attempt to grant power to authorities to enter unannounced. The St Joseph, Missouri legislation could subject your private home to inspection if you have 3 or more intact dogs in your house!

It is also becoming more and more common that these bills would reach more than simply breeders as well. ‘Breeding’ sounds like it would be an easy term to define, but that’s not the case with these bills. The definitions are often ambiguous and unclear as to whom they would apply to. Most ‘commercial breeder’ definitions just give a threshold number of intact dogs owned but do not clarify whether dogs must actually be bred for the owner to qualify as a commercial breeder. More and more of these bills do not provide an exception for showing, hunting, performance, and working training. Let’s say you run a hunting retriever training facility and have 15 intact dogs currently in training. You may be a commercial breeder under some of these laws. What about the sled dog kennel that has 24 intact dogs that comprise several sled teams? It might be considered a commercial breeder. What would be achieved in forcing a dog sledding kennel or a hunting retriever training kennel to pay hundreds of dollars to become registered/licensed as a commercial kennel and suffer the stigma associated with becoming labeled a ‘commercial breeder?’

Another commonality in these bills is that any kind of due process is often sorely lacking. What is due process and what is the importance of that, you ask? Basically, it means before the government can take something away from you, some kind of hearing or ‘process’ must be given to ensure the ‘taking’ has some sense of fairness. Many of these bills allow for deficiencies to be noted against kennels, or citations issued, with no opportunity for kennel owners to have their side heard, which is actually unconstitutional. So, a kennel could have citations issued that may be baseless, and later have their license suspended or revoked with no hearing and no recourse for the kennel. What, then, becomes of the dogs? Most of these bills are silent on that matter. Again, this goes back to the welfare issue—if this type of legislation is really aimed towards providing for the welfare of dogs, why aren’t the dogs provided for in cases of license suspensions?

Trying to make laws based on an emotionally charged slang term is quite simply bad law making. The term ‘puppy mill’ cannot be defined by numbers and should not be used to create legislation. A person could have one dog and keep it in squalid conditions. Cruelty and neglect are indeed serious issues, and should not be taken lightly, but these ‘puppy mill’ bills will not resolve the issues. If dog welfare is truly the goal of ‘puppy mill’ bills, we already have tools in place to protect dogs from squalid conditions and cruelty. The United States currently has the Animal Welfare Act that already regulates ‘wholesale’ breeders that are legally defined as dealers. Dog breeders that sell directly to pet owners are exempt, but breeders that sell to retailers, research, or other dealers must be licensed and subject to inspections by the USDA. The AWA does not attempt to define ‘puppy mills’ or ‘commercial breeders’ or subject a dog breeder to regulation due to the number of dogs they have. Dog breeders that are exempt from the AWA are still subject to local and state kennel licensing, cruelty, and neglect laws. Most of the cruelty and neglect laws provide for more punishment than the proposed breeder bills that would simply put a kennel out of business. Instead of creating these bills that will negatively impact responsible breeders and come at a great cost to the states, cruelty and neglect laws must be strengthened, if found to be lacking, and strictly enforced. When these bills come up in your state, make sure you step up and make it clear to your legislator that this is not the best way to ‘save puppies.’