Missouri Governor Signs Bill Repealing Several Portions of Voter-Approved "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act"Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on June 20th, 2011
Last November voters in Missouri passed a measure known as Prop. B, approving valuable and much-needed protections for animals throughout the state, which is known as the “Puppy Mill Capital of the United States.” It has been estimated that roughly 30 percent of all dogs sold in pet stores across the nation are bred in Missouri. According to KansasCity.com, the new law, set to take effect in November 2011, “would have limited the number of dogs allowed in a breeding operation, elevated violations to criminal offenses, increased space requirements for animal enclosures, and expanded requirements for veterinary care.” Supporters pointed out that these new requirements would have given breeders “clearer standards” and “increased opportunities for enforcement of anti-cruelty laws.” The new regulations were to apply to pet operations with more than 10 female breeding dogs and would have capped the number of dogs allowed to breed in an operation, limiting the number to 50 dogs. The new law also would have limited an individual dog’s breeding cycle, allowing females to have no more than two litters within 18 months.
As stated on the Missouri Secretary of State's website, the purpose of Prop B was to "prohibit the cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills by requiring large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with basic food and water, adequate shelter from the elements, necessary veterinary care, adequate space to turn around and stretch his or her limbs, and regular exercise." The ballot measure set out the existing requirements that dogs have adequate food, water, and housing, as well as ample space. But violations of those requirements would have become misdemeanors — meaning that law enforcement would have had jurisdiction over breeding operations along with state and federal agriculture investigators. Offenders were to face criminal charges, fines, and/or jail time under the new protections.
But fast-forward a few months. The fight to repeal the newly passed law was on from almost the moment the voters made their voices heard. There were critics on both sides, with some saying the law went too far and others claiming that it didn’t go far enough. As reported by the L.A. Times, “supporters of the voter-approved law said Missouri's previous regulations for breeders were too weak, allowing operators to keep dogs in wire cages and exposed to excess heat and cold, while critics of the voter-backed law have said it would wipe out the dog-breeding industry by forcing costly renovations to facilities and effectively limiting how many dogs the businesses can sell.”
So enter a new bill, signed in April by Governor Jay Nixon. Hailed as a “compromise,” the newest law actually shows that lawmakers caved in to the criticism by breeders and others in agriculture, softening the protections that the animals so desperately need.
As summarized by the Times, these are the changes made to the law:
Nixon and lawmakers eliminated the part of Act imposing a limit of 50 breeding dogs per business. Other portions were changed. The new law seeks potential middle ground on the specifics of the living-space requirements, and it gives breeders more time to comply with the new rules.
The voter-backed law required an indoor floor space of at least 25 square feet for small dogs, 30 square feet for medium-size dogs and 35 square feet for large dogs. The new law approved by Nixon doubles the state's previous minimum space requirements by January 2012 and triples them by January 2016 for existing breeders when wire flooring also would be prohibited. Any dog-housing facilities constructed after April 15 will have to comply with the tripled space requirements immediately.
It also attempts to compromise on veterinary visits. The voter-approved law requires at least one yearly exam with prompt treatment for any illness or injury. Lawmakers changed that to two annual visual inspections that did not need to be a hands-on exam in the first bill Nixon signed. Ultimately, there must be one yearly exam and prompt treatment of a "serious illness or injury."
The new law also requires dogs to have continuous access to water, access to food at least twice daily -- an increase from the ballot measure's once daily mandate -- but looser than the voter-approved law because "generally" is inserted in front of a requirement that water be free of debris, feces, algae and other contaminants.
Plus for state licenses, dog breeders could pay up to $2,500, instead of the current $500 maximum, and will pay an extra $25 annual fee to finance state efforts to crack down on unlicensed dog breeders.
Several supporters of the original bill have already spoken out against the “compromise,” possibly even attempting to put the issue back on the ballot, through it was unclear if one option -- a referendum of the new law -- was still available. One bright spot is the fact that the law was not repealed in its entirety and that it is set to take effect immediately. After all, as Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) said, "[The newly signed law] is going to go a long way to curb our reputation as a puppy mill capital.” At least some steps in the right direction are better than no steps at all.