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Missouri lawmakers are considering legislation that would change the provisions that became law under Proposition B. Supporters of the original initiative say their intent was to implement anti-cruelty protections for dogs at commercial breeding facilities in Missouri. Proposition B won a majority of votes in the November 2010 election. However, efforts to repeal or amend the initiative began shortly thereafter with opponents of the measure saying it goes too far and creates problems for well-intentioned breeders. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann looks at both sides of the debate, and files this report.
It wasn’t long after Proposition B passed last November that members of both the Missouri House and Senate began drafting proposals to change the measure. So far, the Senate has voted in favor of making numerous changes to the regulations put in place under Prop B. Opponents of Prop B say it has many flaws, so they argue that their proposed changes would enhance the protections for dogs. Tom Loehner is a farmer and state representative. He chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee and favors changing the regulations put in place by Prop B. Loehner says the lack of funding to enforce regulations is a problem. He also says unlicensed breeders are not covered under Prop B.
“Proposition B provides absolutely no funding, or any other source, to increase inspections, to pay for more inspectors, or to address the unlicensed breeders. And that is what we need to look at, the unlicensed breeders or the breeders that are doing a bad job,” Loehner says.
Loehner says there should be fines for breeders who violate licensing requirements, and he says an increase in licensing fees could help fund additional investigators. Loehner adds that current law does not address how to regulate exempted facilities. Breeding facilities with fewer than 10 breeding females are not required to have a license, making them exempt. He says he supports placing stricter requirements on these exempted facilities.
“What we put in there is if a broker buys a puppy from an exempted facility that it has to contain the same identification, vaccination and health requirements that a licensed pup does. So that was to address the issue the fact that there are unhealthy pups coming into the system,” said Loehner.Many of those who support the regulations contained in Prop B oppose the proposed revisions to the law. Although some proposed changes identify and address certain issues, the legislation would remove many of the original regulations approved under Prop B including the limit on how many dogs a breeder can have, space requirements, breeding restrictions, and the requirement that animals have regular vet services, food and water. However, Loehner says that these guidelines are too specific, making it difficult for almost all commercial breeders to comply.
If Loehner is on one side of the issue, Barbara Schmitz is on the other. She’s the state director in Missouri for the Humane Society of the United States. She says Prop B was drafted with input from a variety of sources including veterinarians, lawyers, investigators, and animal welfare advocates. Schmitz says the agriculture community raised similar concerns 12 years ago when there was a ballot measure banning cock-fighting in Missouri.
“There are opponents of Prop B who have made arguments that somehow this proposition will somehow end all kinds of animal agriculture, and other dire warnings. And that simply is not true. We have one agenda with proposition B and that is, and was, the implementation of very basic and humane care standards for dogs at commercial breeding facilities,” said Schmitz.
Schmitz agrees that there should be additional funding for investigators and better enforcement, but she says that stripping out the explicit protections for dogs is not the answer. She adds there are more than 3,000 commercial breeding facilities in Missouri, compared to dozens in other states. Schmitz says without the regulations of Prop B, Missouri law is too vague and has too many loopholes. She says abusive behavior by breeders has been pervasive despite those laws.
“If you look at inspection reports now, the state and federal inspectors are going out to these facilities time and again. And they are documenting the inhumane conditions. What they are not able to do effectively, under pre-Proposition B laws is to prevent the cruelty,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz argues that even the best intentioned breeders can have a hard time properly caring for too many dogs and still making a profit.
“When you have more than 50 adult breeding dogs, you tend to also have a lot of puppies. If one thing goes wrong, the care of those animals tends to deteriorate. And that is because those a lot of the folks who are engaging in the large commercial operations here are really cutting the care as close as they can to ensure maximized profit,” said Schmitz.
Larry Rook is a local breeder who says that he understands the pros and cons of Prop B. Rook says he got into the breeding business years ago following a bad experience acquiring a dog from a breeding facility. He maintains that for him, breeding is about the purity of the breed, not about making money.
“It’s too difficult caring for these dogs they way I’d want to care for them. You know each one of those animals must have some time daily with a human; playing, running and ‘being a dog.’ And you can’t do that in that type of operation where you have 50 to 100 dogs; it’s impossible. There aren’t enough hours in the day,” said Rook.
Representative Tom Loehner says everyone who’s involved in this debate wants dogs to be treated humanely, but he feels that Proposition B hurts people rather than helps dogs. He says he fears if changes are not made, the law under Prop B will punish those he calls good breeders because they may go out of business.
“What’s your intention of Proposition B? If your intent was to shut down a dog breeding industry, then by all means Proposition B will do that. But if your intent was to protect the health and welfare of these dogs and pups out here, then our committee substitute will do that,” Loehner said.
If lawmakers are going to make any changes to the regulations put in place by Prop B, they have until the end of the legislative session—May 13th—to send proposed changes to the governor’s desk.For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.