"Puppy Mill" Bills Revisited
Posted on 05/23/2012 in Your Dog, Your Rights.
by Sara Chisnell-Voigt, UKC Legal Counsel
Recently, an incident occurred not far from United Kennel Club headquarters that has set the perfect storm for an anti-breeding movement by the animal rightests. In early April, over 350 dogs were seized from the home of George and Cheri Burke in Allegan County, just outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan. There’s no doubt that the dogs were in awful condition: covered in feces, matted coats, and suffering the effects of overcrowding. The media simply went crazy, and headlines were splashed across the state and even the country about the huge “puppy mill” bust.
While it’s wonderful the dogs were removed from their terrible conditions, and it sounds as if thousands of people are applying to adopt the dogs and give them a better chance at life, the situation is bad for Michigan dog breeders. First and foremost, people like this should not even be referred to as breeders. I wouldn’t even refer to them as a “puppy mill”, if I even acknowledged that emotionally charged term coined by the animal rights movement.
I would argue this is a classic case of hoarding; where things have gotten completely out of control and there is no thought or care or possibly even knowledge as to who is breeding who. The couple was initially charged with felony animal neglect and faced up to four years in prison and up to $95,000 in fines. This past week they were back in court, and pled guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges per a deal with the prosecutor, and face sentencing at the end of May. The judge has ordered psychiatric evaluations of the two.
Many people are outraged by the lesser charges. I view it a bit differently since I feel that these people are hoarders. Hoarding is when a person has a high number of animals and isn’t able to care for them properly, but typically can’t see that what they’re doing is wrong. They are usually quite attached to their animals and can’t comprehend that they are harming the animals and often harming themselves through filthy conditions and high ammonia in the home. Hoarding is more of a mental disorder than any intentional cruelty. Prison time and high fines will do little to resolve the issue with people in these cases; the judge here has hit the nail on the head by ordering a psychiatric evaluation. I would like to see legislation that deals with animal hoarders in a manner more fitting, rather than jail time and fines, such as counseling, community service, and even disallowing them from owning animals.
What is happening instead in Michigan is a new burst of energy for the “Puppy Protection Act” that was filed in January. These hoarders that have been portrayed in the media as a “puppy mill” are being held up as an example of why we need legislation to address ‘puppy mills.’ Some lawmakers are claiming that had this legislation been in place, this situation never would have occurred; thus the bill must be passed into law.
Sounds great on the outset, right? There are many, many issues with this proposed bill, and bills like this in general, that will do nothing to the bad actors but will hurt the responsible breeders. Do you really think people such as these in Michigan will go forward and apply for a license? 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.
What is a “puppy mill”?
Let’s look a little closer at the issue. So what is a “puppy mill”? How is a “puppy mill” defined under the law? There’s no real answer or clear definition. Basically, “puppy mill” is an emotional term no doubt coined by the animal rights movement. 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 U.S. after World War II. Farmers were encouraged by the USDA to raise dogs as crops to be sold in retail when issues arose with traditional 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 some current legislation and law.
• West Virginia: 11 or more intact dogs (bill failed).
• Michigan: more than 15 intact female dogs “housed for the purpose of breeding” (proposed bill).
• Iowa: four or more intact dogs or cats, plus consideration for breeding (current law).
• Hawaii: 10 or more intact dogs over four months old, regardless of active breeding or not.
• Texas: 11 or more intact female dogs six months or older, plus engaged in the business of breeding.
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? 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 three 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”.
The “Puppy Protection Act”
Following are some specific points regarding the Michigan “Puppy Protection Act” (Senate Bills 891 and 892) and contact information for Senators so that you may have your voice heard regarding this bill.
Under the Puppy Protection Act, a “large scale commercial breeding kennel” is defined as a “kennel where more than 15 female intact dogs are housed for the purpose of breeding.” Definition of large-scale commercial kennel by more than 15 intact females alone is an unacceptable threshold. The language is ambiguous as to whether or not all 15 females must be used for breeding, or if only one of the 15 would suffice to meet the threshold. Many kennels that do not even breed may have more than 15 intact female dogs over the age of four months. UKC suggests adding “and sells more than 50 puppies or dogs in a calendar year.”
In addition, the bill should contain an exemption for breeders of dogs used for show, performance, work or hunting. Breeders and owners that are active with their dogs are the responsible breeders and are not the target of this legislation. UKC has suggested the following language to be added under exemptions to legislators: “A person or breeder who keeps, breeds, and/or trains dogs for the purpose of hunting, working, herding or guarding livestock or other animals, tracking, assistance or service, dog-powered sports; or exhibiting in dog shows, performance events, field trials, hunt tests, or other type of dog event.”
Section 3 (c) defines “adequate rest between breeding cycles” as “ensuring that a dog is not bred to produce more than one litter in any 12-month period of time.” The first glaring problem is that the definition does not clarify if this applies to both sexes or only females. Application to both is unrealistic as stud dogs are typically used multiples times within a year. Even if it applies only to females, there is no scientific basis in creating a standard that a female only be bred once a year.
“Regular exercise” excludes the use of a treadmill, jenny mill, slat mill, or similar device to properly exercise a dog. UKC would like clarification as to why these would not be acceptable exercise means; use of these is quite normal practice for conditioning show, performance, and hunting dogs.
“State of good health” definition is worrisome as well. The definition sounds good on the outset, but is too arbitrary and in essence, does not allow the individual owner to determine what the “appropriate treatment” should be. There is no clarification as to what or who may deem “appropriate treatment”.
“Turn and stretch freely” disallows the use of a tether. Outlawing tethers is unacceptable: many hunting and sled dog kennels safely keep dogs in this manner.
• Senator Steven Bieda, 25th District, primary bill sponsor, 310 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909, Office 517-373-8360, Fax 517-373-9230.
• Senator Rick Jones, 24th District, 915 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-3447, fax 517-373-5849, e-mail SenRJones@senate.michigan.gov.
• Senator Tory Rocca, 10th District, 205 Farnum Building, mailing address, PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-7315, fax 517-373-3126.
• Senator Mike Kowall, 15th District, 305 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-1758, fax 517-373-0938, e-mail SenMKowall@senate.michigan.gov.
Michigan 2012 Senate Agriculture Committee
• Senator Joe Hune, 22nd District, Committee Chair, 505 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-2420, fax 517-373-2764, e-mail SenJHune@senate.michigan.gov.
• Senator Darwin L. Booher, 35th District, Majority Vice Chair, 520 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-1725, fax 517-373-0741.
• Senator Judy K. Emmons, 33rd District, 1005 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-3760, fax, 517-373-8661.
• Senator Geoff Hansen, 34th District, 420 Farnum Building, mailing address: PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909-7536, phone 517-373-1635, fax 517-373-3300.
• Senator John J. Gleason, 27th District, PO Box 30036, Lansing MI 48909, toll free 866-268-2914, office 517-373-0142, fax: 517-373-3938.