After the November election, I learned that Missouri voters passed legislation known as the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act (Proposition B). As I began surfing the Internet to learn more, I anticipated reading about strict new regulations that would dramatically limit the number of dogs per “breeding factory” along with regulations that would enhance the physical and emotional well being of dogs unfortunate enough to wind up in puppy mills. Here is what I read. Proposition B stipulates that breeders may have up to 50 breeding dogs at any given time (no, the number 50 is not a typo). Additionally, this new legislation requires that dogs be provided with:
-Sufficient food that is provided at least once daily
-Access to water that is not frozen and is free of debris, feces, algae, and other contaminants
-Necessary veterinary care (an examination at least once yearly by a licensed veterinarian)
-Sufficient housing including protection from the elements
-Sufficient space to turn and stretch freely and fully extend limbs
-Adequate rest between breeding cycles (no more than two litters during an 18 month time period)
Fifty dogs at a time? Daily food and clean water required? Enough space to allow dogs to stand up and stretch their legs? Was this really the best that puppy mill reform legislation could provide- nothing more than the bare basics to sustain a modicum of physical comfort for puppy mill “livestock”? How could this be? I addressed my surprise and disappointment by contacting and asking questions of Jennifer Fearing, the California senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States who was in Missouri prior to the election canvassing for votes for Proposition B. Her responses were informative and heartfelt, and she was so genuinely patient in responding to my lack of awareness. Jennifer has graciously allowed me to share her comments with you:
“Under the old Missouri law, dogs can be kept in wire-floored cages just six inches longer than their bodies. The cages can be stacked on top of each other. A veterinarian must make an annual walk-through of a facility but there is no requirement that the dogs get actual exams or even treatment for any existing conditions or injuries. Dogs are bred on every single heat cycle, leading to dogs so bred-out that we routinely see young dogs (three to four years old) whose teeth have all fallen out because their systems are so overtaxed and malnourished, and whose teats are dragging on the ground. The old law does have a provision regarding extreme temperatures, but it says that dogs couldn’t face extreme temperatures for more than three consecutive hours, making enforcement impossible because no inspector is going to stand around with his thermometer in the air for three hours. There is a vague requirement for an exercise plan, but that too is unenforceable and as a result we see dogs who have clearly lived their entire lives on wire floors and never set foot on solid ground.
The new law, which goes into effect one year from passage: Every dog must have a solid-floored enclosure that allows constant, unfettered access to a larger outdoor area. Larger enclosure sizes are required with specific sizing requirements based on the size of the dog. Each dog must receive an annual exam and any dog who is sick or suffering must receive veterinary treatment. No dog may have more than 2 litters in any 18 month period, which essentially means every 3rd cycle is rested, giving them a chance to recuperate from the exhausting cycle of carrying and nursing pups. The time limit mentioned above is removed so that dogs cannot be kept in temperatures below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees, period.
Just as importantly, these new requirements are simple and easy to enforce. Currently in Missouri, if law enforcement gets a complaint call they must call in the experts from the Department of Agriculture to help interpret 30+ pages of vague, confusing and outdated regulations. Because of backlogs and understaffing, it can take six months or longer for an Ag inspector to even show up. But any Sheriff’s deputy can interpret these new requirements – anyone can see if a floor is solid or wire; if cages are stacked; if the dogs have access to an outdoor area; if there are more than 50 dogs; etc. So instead of leaving the dogs to suffer for another six months, law enforcement can file criminal charges on the spot.
And the penalties may seem modest but any violation of the new Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is a criminal offense, which leads to license forfeiture. And if conditions rise to the level of animal cruelty, the offender can be charged instead under the existing state animal cruelty law.
Missouri is only the fifth state to cap the number of dogs a commercial breeder can keep. Since 2008, Oregon, Washington and Virginia have set the number at 50, and Virginia includes a provision allowing the state to allow more than 50 if certain conditions are met. Louisiana has a cap of 75. It’s important to remember that these bills are not intended to ban commercial breeding, they are simply designed to eliminate the worst abuses at puppy mills and create more humane living conditions for the dogs who live there. And the data (from state and federal inspection reports) are clear that the largest facilities accumulate the most frequent and most severe violations.
I should mention too that the new law is in addition to, and not in lieu of, the existing regulations. Those regulations still exist, this law is simply an overlay to correct the weak and vague areas of the regulations that allowed dogs to suffer.
Finally, the significance of this law passing in the epicenter of the puppy mill industry cannot be overemphasized. It will lead to similar restrictions in other states and to vast improvement in the living conditions of dogs kept for the commercial pet trade.”
Jennifer’s explanations certainly changed my perspective about the benefits provided by Proposition B. While this legislation will not create an existence for a puppy mill victim that in any way resembles my notion of what every dog deserves, no doubt its enforcement will make a positive difference in the current dismal quality of many lives. I must admit that after reading Jennifer’s response my overriding feeling was, “Shame on me!” As a veterinarian I’m embarrassed by my naïveté about puppy mills. To some degree, I think I’ve been floating along that river in Egypt (De Nial)- far more pleasant to be “out of touch” rather than “in touch” with the true horrors of what goes on in puppy mills. Sure, via my blog and in Speaking for Spot I’ve advocated against supporting puppy mills by avoiding purchasing puppies from pet stores or on line (sight and site unseen). I simply don’t think my efforts have been adequate. While I’m certain that I need to do more to create puppy mill reform, I’m not yet sure what that “more” looks like yet. Stay tuned- I will keep you posted as I figure it out. Have you taken a stance against puppy mills? If so what has been your strategy?
By the way, I debated whether or not to release a blog on such a serious topic while my readers are in the midst of the holiday hustle. My hope is that the thoughts expressed will provide some inspiration- always a good thing during the holiday season.
If you would like to respond publicly, please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=1924.
Best wishes for a lovely holiday season,
Dr. Nancy Kay
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award