Pets, Lies & Legislation

By Carole Raphhaelle Davis

Puppy mills are a hot political issue. Public outrage is growing over the legal multi-billion dollar puppy-producing business that forces millions of breeding dogs to endure inhumane treatment in factory-like conditions until death. They're kept 24/7 in wire cages caked with their own feces, with no veterinary care or socialization. Average dog lovers want puppy mills to become illegal.

Consequently, a war about dogs is escalating in America -   a battle as complex as any fought in the history of social movements and waged with a proportionate scale of strategists, lobbyists, and commanders vying for control, power, and money.

Powerful animal enterprises like the pet breeding industry, animal agriculture, the AKC (American Kennel Club), the RA, the pharmaceutical research industry, zoos, exotic pet dealers and hunting clubs have banded together and are holding their ground against the animal rights movement. The animal protection movement, divided, yet emboldened with millions of members, savvy lawyers and deep pockets, pushes back hard and from every point on the war map, there are principles that impassioned combatants feel entitled to fight for.

In this mire of blood and money, there is mudslinging from both sides. There is infighting. There is greed. There are heroes. There are liars and thugs posing as heroes. There are geniuses and morons"”zealots and moderates. There is chaos and this battle is a complicated and bloody mess. Neither side will give up and both sides fear the struggle will outlive us all. If you reduce it to its most simple elements, what you have are two compelling and contradictory points of view:

1) Animal protection position: There's a pet overpopulation crisis and five million pets are being killed in "shelters" every year because there aren't enough homes for them. Meanwhile, the commercial breeding industry exacerbates this tragedy by churning out millions of surplus dogs for profit. Dogs in puppy mills are bred until their bodies give out. Then, they're killed or sold at auction. Mill breeding dogs live and die unprotected, are used like machine parts in cruel conditions with insufficient or no oversight. These dogs are often injured, wounded and sick. They're exposed to extreme temperatures. Dealers often sell the puppies of these dogs directly to the public via the Internet, benefiting from a giant loophole: they're not regulated - yet. The cruelty dogs endure routinely in breeding operations is unacceptable. Puppy millers must be regulated. To relieve the agony of dogs in factory farming, new protective measures must be imposed and existing laws to protect them must be enforced. The pet trade industry can't be trusted to self- regulate, nor can we rely on government agencies (like the USDA) to ensure humane treatment or to enforce the minimum standards of care under the Animal Welfare Act. Americans are demanding action.

2) Animal enterprise position: Radical extremists, AR (animal rights) fanatics, are a dangerous fringe group attempting to make pets extinct and pet ownership obsolete. They are domestic terrorists who use violence and intimidation. These militants are anti-business and antiscience, and they are intruding in an unconstitutional way on privacy by attacking the rights of individuals, animal enterprises, and small businesses. They want to ensure that the government can tell you how many dogs you can own, sell, or breed and want to be able to come on to your property to inspect your adherence to their unfair laws. They want to use big government to enforce the sterilization of your personal property"”your dog. There is no pet overpopulation crisis; it's a myth. The AR lobby is guilty of greed and deceit, and will force legislation that will terminate our individual rights and freedom. The AR movement does little to help animals; it actually kills them. All they do is collect money. Our rights are in peril. Our purebred dogs are facing extinction.

Dale Bartlett, Deputy Manager for public policy in the puppy mill campaign for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told me that so far, this session, 63 puppy mill bills have been introduced in 32 states. Of those, six have passed, "establishing inspection or licensing programs for high volume puppy producers," Bartlett says.

State bills include protective measures that restrict abuse, implement minimum standards of care, mandate exercise, inspections, seizure for non-compliance and in some cases, mandate sterilization.

Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of the HSUS, believes mainstream America is veering toward better treatment for animals, asserting that, "in 2008, there were 93 new animal protection laws passed in the states, and in 2009, only halfway through the year, we've already passed 96 state laws to protect animals."

Some bills, called "cap bills," limit the number of unaltered dogs a breeder is allowed to have, targeting mass volume puppy producers as opposed to small or "hobby" breeders. In 2008, Louisiana put a cap at seventy-five, and in Virginia, a cap of 50 was imposed. Oregon and Washington were also capped at 50 dogs in 2009. Dale Bartlett said that bills pending currently would implement caps of 50 in California and 25 in Massachusetts.

Commercial breeding operations typically exploit hundreds of dogs (some have a thousand), so limiting the number of dogs in breeding operations might ultimately reduce the number of dogs being abused. Arguably, it's easier to care for 50 dogs than for 500. As a national strategy, forcing high volume breeders to adhere to these numbers is ingeniously effective by making the mass volume dog dealing business a lot less lucrative, crippling the worst in the industry. It's a cunning "divide and conquer" plan because if the intent is successful across the U.S., it could actually help smaller breeders if they market themselves as "ethical breeders."

This "cap tactic," by cutting into profits, obviously infuriates large animal enterprises. I spoke with Patti Strand, the national director of NAIA (National Animal Interest Alliance), a group of breeders, research scientists, cattle ranchers, hunters, egg producers, and others who are "dedicated to responsible animal use." She's also a board member of the AKC (American Kennel Club) and known in the industry for being "the real warrior" on this issue. "Any person who would protect someone who's breeding dogs in inhumane conditions should be ashamed," Strand says. "On the other hand, to eliminate someone who has a certain arbitrary number of dogs simply because of the number of dogs when they are well treated, well socialized, and responsibly placed, is shameful too."

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