The State of Puppy Mills in the Heart of America: Are we Closer to Legislation to Stomp Them Out?
By JL Smith
Most of us know… well, at least I presume that if you clicked to read this article you know, that puppy mills are on every single national animal advocacy group’s ‘Top Five Worst Animal Welfare Issues’ list.
If you don’t know what a puppy mill is, please stop now and read this link from the Humane Society’s famous Stop Puppy Mills program before you proceed for a brief overview.
After the unnerving repeal of Prop. B in Missouri earlier this year, because unfortunately power, profit and puppy mills trump any form of democracy in that state, and with other state legislators being so unwilling and flat-out unresponsive in terms of listening to constituents about getting anything on a ballot to stop this heinous practice, most of us advocates and activists feel totally defeated. (Yes, I understand that the economy, healthcare, national defense & the recession are bigger fish to fry in legislators’ kitchens right now….)
But the puppy mill problem is getting worse. In just the last two months, there have been more serious, more frequent puppy mill raids in North Carolina, Ohio, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Kentucky, California and other states. The raids are getting bigger in terms of numbers of dogs recovered… and they’re getting more severe in terms of injuries. Organizations from across the country – from the North Shore Animal League to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to Best Friends Animal Society – are stepping in to rescue dogs, vet them, find foster homes, feed them, and then work to find permanent homes for them. Plus, there are countless local, smaller rescues taking in fosters in groups of entire litters!
I believe my fellow Americans are inherently intelligent – and driven. And they damn well know when they want something to change (Ahem, Occupy Wall Street… )
But it’s going to take an army to fix the puppy mill problem. And Americans are starting to catch on…Even the mainstream media is getting involved now (and we all know how much they control!):
-Oprah Winfrey showed an expose and even joined forces with 20/20 reporter Lisa Ling; she has also made it a personal mission to continue to uncover the ill wills of mills since her beloved Cocker Spaniel died, as is evidenced by the information on her website – and the popular re-airing (and updates) of the show for the last three years, which had audience exposure in the range of tens of millions of viewers.
- Just a month or so ago, USA Today printed a wonderful article on the psychological effects of mills on the actual dogs who inhabit them.
- Additionally, there are big-time online media outlets like Petside.com (an arm of NBC Universal) keeping the public abreast of the issue constantly, with hundreds of posts about it; this one in particular is from the point-of-view of an adopter of a former puppy mill stud dog and is quite heart-wrenching…
So what’s being done by the government?
The laws to protect animals in this country are as weak as the actual power we voters have when it comes right down to it… and they’re about as confusing as our healthcare laws. Blame gets thrown around by actual decision-makers like they’re sitting in Congress, not willing to reach even a single pinky finger across the aisle.
First you’ll hear that regulation falls under the Animal Welfare Act, a 70’s-era law which is about as outdated as 8-track tapes. Then you’ll hear that it’s the United States Department of Agriculture’s responsibility – but, oh, these poor government-funded workers don’t have the time or enough funding to properly oversee all the breeders in every state. (And they really don’t. The last statistic I heard was that one USDA representative is responsible for overseeing near 20 breeders A DAY in the State of Ohio.)
It melts down from there like a snowball in hell. The national government says it should be a state issue … then states like Missouri get push-back, and then another state like Ohio can’t even pass an animal cruelty bill like Nitro’s Law, which has fallen on the Senate floor for THREE YEARS IN A ROW! (Basically, any Ohio resident can abuse, beat-up, starve, neglect, or kill an animal and get away with a small fine and/or maybe probation…)
Currently, the only national-level animal welfare legislation regarding puppy mills close to being “on the books” is Congress’ Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act: S. 707/H.R. 835, introduced by my new personal heroes, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and David Vitter (R-La.), and Representatives Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) Sam Farr (D-Calif.), respectively.
The PUPS Act only exists because of serious pushing by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the foremost known organization dedicated to lobbying for animal welfare in Washington, D.C. Most of the donation dollars they receive go towards campaigning in D.C. for animals – which is good.
The bipartisan PUPS legislation has attracted high-ranking co-sponsors in both chambers; but it needs more help – it needs more attention drawn to it to attract more support in Congress.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering taking action to regulate large-scale commercial dog breeders that sell directly to consumers online. This is the most effective means for puppy millers to sell their dogs/new litters of puppies across the country. They do this by creating store-fronts, brick-and-mortar-looking fake fronts, and all kinds of other tricks that only an Internet pro could figure out.
Currently, only breeders who sell their dogs to puppy brokers or pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected by the USDA. If passed, the PUPS Act would require any breeder who sells or offers to sell more than 50 dogs annually directly to the public—including over the Internet—to also be licensed and inspected. (Francine – perhaps this paragraph or the bold parts of this article can be put into a different color or increased in size a bit for emphasis)
The Act would also require all dog breeders licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act to exercise every dog every day, including allowing the dogs to reach a running stride without the use of treadmills or similar devices. Commercial breeders often keep their dogs in teeny-tiny cages for their entire lives. I mean, these guys can’t even stand up most of the time. They come out during rescue with ingrown toes, nails that are 8-inches long, front paws turned inward, random cuts/bruises/incisions, and all sorts of other horrible injuries… including those caused by severe malnourishment and dehydration.
There has been one small step this year in terms of puppy mill laws and legislation – and it was at a state level. I have to admit I am quite proud of Texas Governor, Rick Perry (presidential election feelings aside) and those who supported him for championing and passing H.B. 1451, which is a huge win for us. The bill establishes minimum standards for the humane handling, care, housing and transportation of dogs and cats by breeders. HB 1451 also requires that breeders be inspected and that enclosures have adequate drainage, are made out of safe materials and have adequate space for animals to comfortably stand, sit, turn around and lie down in a natural position.
They are leading the pack-so to speak-in terms of state puppy mill laws and legislation.
So what next? How can you help?
Get involved. Now.
In the Ohio area, join BODA or Columbus Top Dogs to sign petitions and volunteer to try to stomp out dog auctions, which are Ohio’s Amish puppy millers’ main source of income and the top arena for “selling their wares.” Dog auctions are also effective means of income in Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and Michigan. So look into small shelters in your state, too because even spending time volunteering there will help. How? Taking care of those animals helps them get adopted !That’s one less in a shelter!
We, as animal welfare advocates, desperately need national-level sponsorship. We desperately need state and regional level volunteers, events, movements, and petitions, too. So do what you can where ever you live. Do your research and see what’s out there.
Check out the organizations mentioned above: the ASPCA in NYC has an online No Pet Store Puppies campaign; in the West, join up with Best Friends Animal Society. They have what’s called the Puppy Mill Initiatives where activities range from peaceful demonstrations in front of pet stores to educating consumers where and whenever possible. The North Shore Animal League does tons of puppy mill rescues, and, of course, the renowned HSUS is the champion of programs for constituents to contact their law-makers via email. Also – keep reading the web’s top animal welfare blogs for updates!
Many people wonder what the biggest little thing they can do is. CONTACT YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS! Tell them to pass the PUPS Act and that you would like a state-level puppy mill bill as well. Be stern but polite; remind them that you put them into office and you can take them out, too!
Stay active, stay passionate, and stay firm in your beliefs! As much as we animal welfare activists may get knocked down ,we always stand back up again… because we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Our Star Blogger
Jaime Lynn Smith, Administrator/Owner/Author of http://thoughtsfurpaws.com
Some people call me a fanatic – and I believe there are lots of me out there. I call myself an “Animaniac,” but pet fanatic is okay, too. Since I was six, I have had an adoration, love & respect for all creatures that most parents can only hope to instill in their children. I write my blog & contribute to various sites, including IAMS’ sponsored The Dog Daily/The Daily Cat, the Bissell Pack of Pet Lovers and (NBC Universal’s) Petside.com, which has Annual Pet Net Events. I share personal stories, educate others, advocate for animals & learn all at once! I write most frequently about animal welfare causes/legislation, the “politics of pets,” i.e., recent pet issues, puppy mill industry, & how people can get involved locally/nationally. I love being a pet blog consultant for two large national (anonymous) organizations – it’s just one more way I can contribute. I also volunteer here in Ohio for state/national causes including banning dog auctions, passing animal cruelty legislation, puppy mill bills, et al. I have close relationships with many legislators b/c of my level of volunteer activity & intimate knowledge of the political process, which aids many animal welfare groups who are small and/ or unfamiliar with this tricky process. Find Jaime Lynn on Twitter @ThoughtsFurPaws