Puppy Mills Require Ongoing Legislative Attention

Despite heightened public awareness, puppy mills continue to plague communities across the nation. The law often lags behind ever-advancing social values, and continued legislative efforts are much-needed to address the affront of puppy mills. There is, however, real cause for optimism – an increasingly active and enlightened public means that dozens of “puppy mill bills” have been introduced all around the country, and indeed many jurisdictions have already passed laws to address this problem. While the patience legislative improvements require is challenging to all who would see immediate relief for these dogs, the potential for successes which would offer long-lasting and meaningful protections inspires commitment.

While each puppy mill presents a unique case, puppy mills may be approached via several areas of the law. Where the case facts, evidence, and procedural rules will support it, it is possible to apply more than one area of law to any given case.

State Anti-Cruelty Statutes via Local Law Enforcement

These laws criminalize the neglect and abuse of individual animals. These charges must be pursued through the criminal justice system* wherein investigators with law enforcement authority recommend charges to their prosecutor’s office, which then makes the decision as to how – or if – to charge the case. One of the main challenges in puppy mill investigations is gathering evidence sufficient to sustain a viable criminal prosecution. Puppy mills are often clandestine operations which frustrate legal property access, increasingly so as owners become more and more concerned about the possibilities technology offers toward undercover investigations.

Each state’s anti-cruelty laws differ as to what is chargeable as “neglect,” and with those differences come challenges for law enforcement.  For example, where states have clear minimum standards of care written into their laws, the opportunities for meaningful prosecution increase. Conversely, where the concept of neglect is only superficially addressed, the likelihood of successful prosecution diminishes.

* While North Carolina’s Civil Remedy for Protection of Animals (19A) is so-far unique, ALDF encourages the adoption of such a provision by all states, and includes language for Civil Injunctive Relief for Criminal Violations in its Model Animal Protection Laws collection. (For an example of NC 19A’s practical application, see ALDF v. Woodley.)

State Regulatory Laws and Consumer Protection via Offices of the Attorney General or Departments of Agriculture

Where available, “puppy lemon laws” go beyond a state’s Uniform Commercial Code to offer recourse specifically to those who purchase animals and discover that they were in some way misled by the seller – usually in terms of the health of the animal. These claims are generally enforced by a state’s Attorney General’s office, which may also choose to investigate puppy mill operators as to such issues as tax evasion or records fraud.

State regulations which address the licensing of kennel operations may or may not include effective language as to standards of care. While both the Illinois Animal Welfare Act and the California Polanko-Lockyer Pet Breeder Warranty Act provide modest lists of basic housing and care obligations, the recently enhanced Pennsylvania Dog Law/Act 119 contains detailed facility standard requirements – as well as clear restrictions on procedures such as tail and ear cropping – and enjoys the enforcement authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Dog Law Enforcement Bureau.

Some states allow ballot initiatives, and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs/YES! on Prop B recently used this process in an effort to “stop puppy mill abuses by establishing common sense standards for the proper care of dogs.”  While the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” was ultimately weakened due to political pushback, the initiative process served as a dynamic tool in bringing the puppy mill controversy into the public arena.

Animal Welfare Act violations via USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS)

This federal law, which sets minimum standards for the housing and care for some commercially raised animals, has a stormy history and is notoriously under-enforced. A system review of APHIS’ Animal Care Program inspections released in May 2010 indeed revealed a disappointing record. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is regulatory rather than criminal by design, with APHIS agents acting as inspectors rather than investigators. Even when properly enforced, AWA violations usually result only in warnings, fines and, all-too-rarely, license revocation. While wholesale dog breeders and dealers are subject to the limited demands of the AWA, retail pet sellers are not. The internet has unfortunately created a “loophole market” for puppy millers as their online sales are not currently covered under the AWA.

There is hope for improvement however. The abovementioned report and public demand have helped to inspire federal legislation which seeks to remedy some of these problems and give the AWA more teeth toward effectively addressing the widespread suffering inherent at puppy mills. Congress is currently considering Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS) / S. 707 & H.R. 835.

City/County Codes

These ordinances can effectively apply to puppy mills which violate community standards in areas such as numbers of animals, vaccination requirements, zoning restrictions, environmental codes and commercial licensing. Another avenue gaining momentum with local communities is the prohibition (or heavy regulation) of dog sales at retail pet stores. While they may not carry the weight of state or federal remedies, these local codes may, in many places, supplement lacking state laws with regard to neglect definitions and standards-of-care. Puppy millers (like animal hoarders) often seek out jurisdictions which have a reputation for lax policing at the local level, and communities can use their local ordinances to ensure that they are not an appealing destination for abusive operations.

The town of Romulus, N.Y. recently made the news when local puppy miller David Yoder “euthanized” over 70 dogs by using a disturbing “home-made gas chamber.” Although he lost both his USDA and local kennel licenses and is no longer operating, an outraged community was frustrated and confused by a guilty plea which resulted in only a fine. But the Yoder case does not define the progressive town of Romulus, which in 2009 chose to adopt a zoning ordinance which set standards for – and limits on – commercial breeding operations.


Last revised December 2010

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