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Commercial Dog Breeding in Missouri: Part 1 – What a Difference a Law Makes | News

COLOMBIA — More than three years after Missouri passed a law to crack down on the state’s worst puppy mills, authorities have seen the number of lawsuits triple.

Enforcement of the Prevention of Canine Cruelty Act, originally known as “Prop B”, has also led to an increase in the number of civil fines imposed on substandard breeders.

An analysis of legal documents, obtained from the Missouri Attorney General’s office through a series of Sunshine Law requests, illustrates the effectiveness of these regulatory changes:

  • Since April 27, 2011, when the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act went into effect, more than 1,300 dogs have been rescued, said Sarah Alsager, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
  • Within 27 months after the law was enacted, 37 companies or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s office for prosecution.
  • As a result, more than $25,000 in civil fines were imposed and nine licenses revoked, ranging in duration from three to 10 years.
  • In contrast, in the 24 months before the law took effect, 10 companies or individuals were referred to state officials for violating Missouri animal welfare laws. No civil fines were imposed in these cases.

Chart: Travis Hartman | Missourian

The ranchers were subject to the Animal Care Facilities Act, a state-level animal welfare law that regulates various animal-related organizations and businesses.

Under the law, breeders could be prosecuted for posing “an ongoing substantial risk to animal health and welfare” or for posing “an ongoing substantial risk that consumers will purchase diseased animals”.

Violators were liable to fines, license revocations and even prison terms. It rarely happened.

The Oversight Division also found that state officials had only fined two substandard ranchers in administrative hearings the previous year.

Back then, administrative hearings were expensive, time-consuming and nearly impossible to produce, said Jessica Blome, a former assistant attorney general for Missouri.

Local county prosecutors were often reluctant to bring their constituents to criminal court, she said, and the “substantial ongoing risk” standard was extremely high, making civil lawsuits rare.

These obstacles have made it difficult to regulate the Animal Care Facilities Act and prosecute animal welfare violators.

Before the November 2010 election, Missouri was earning a reputation as one of the worst states in the nation for puppy mills — a reference to commercial dog-breeding facilities with substandard conditions.

In this fall’s election, Proposal B passed with just over 51% of the vote. Nearly one million Missourians — and more than 22,000 Boone County residents — voted in favor of the effort to improve standards of care for animals confined to animal husbandry facilities across the state.

Farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, however, have expressed concern over Proposition B’s definition of a pet animal: “any domestic animal normally kept in or near the owner’s household”.

They feared that this interpretation could be applied to more traditional forms of animal husbandry. Accordingly, farmers and ranchers would be subject to the laws and regulations of the legislation.

Commercial breeders argued that a 50-dog limit would have dire financial consequences, potentially driving many breeders out of business.

Chart: Travis Hartman | Missourian

Over the next few months, the Missouri General Assembly acted to repeal many key provisions of Proposition B.

Eventually, a compromise was reached between state lawmakers and Governor Jay Nixon, known as the “Missouri Solution,” or the Prevention of Canine Cruelty Act, which retained some of the original standards of care. and provided funding for inspections.

The 50-dog limit was removed and “pet” was redefined as a “species of domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, or resulting hybrids”.

On the other hand, animal welfare campaigners won on several fronts: increased space requirements for dogs and constant, unhindered access to outdoor exercise areas. Food and water provisions and breeding frequency regulations have also been improved.

One of the biggest wins for animal welfare campaigners has come in the form of veterinary care. Each breeding animal must be inspected at least once a year by a licensed veterinarian.

The provision also calls for “prompt” treatment of any serious illness or injury and more humane forms of euthanasia, which must be approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association and conducted by a licensed veterinarian, according to the Missouri Alliance. for animal legislation. The nonprofit alliance, founded in 1990 and based in St. Louis, lobbies for the passage of animal welfare laws that protect animals from abuse, neglect and inhumane treatment.

Additionally, the Missouri Department of Agriculture can now direct state prosecutors to prosecute breeders for past violations of the Animal Care Facilities Act and the Prevention of Canine Cruelty Act.

State prosecutors can now impose civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and charge offenders with the crime of canine cruelty, according to the alliance.

These changes gave state officials more regulatory power and led to more lawsuits. They may also have led to a reduction in the number of licensed commercial breeders in Missouri.

Chart: Travis Hartman | Missourian

Since 2010, the number of commercial breeders licensed by Missouri’s Animal Welfare Program has fallen from about 1,400 to just over 800, a drop of more than 40%, according to data obtained from the Department of Health. ‘Missouri Farming.

Some associate it directly with legislation.

“Now that non-compliance is being prosecuted,” he said, “hundreds of breeders have chosen to shut down their breeding operations rather than face heavy penalties.”

Others cite additional factors, primarily financial barriers.

“I think the main reason is the economic recession and the very slow recovery. Most people get into dog breeding to make a quick buck, which is why there are so many violations,” Blome said.

“Most go bankrupt voluntarily just because they can’t make money,” she added.

Baker has been studying commercial breeders since 1980. Since then, he has visited more than 1,000 facilities across the country.

“When I first started investigating puppy mills,” he said, “many were farm wives who supplemented farm income by raising dogs in their spare time.”

The dogs were kept in chicken coops, rabbit hutches or even old refrigerators, washing machines or dryers that the breeders had salvaged from junkyards, Baker said.

As large hog farms increased production and cornered the market, small family hog farms were forced to evolve to ensure their survival. Many have turned to dog breeding, Baker said.

They introduced an “industrial farming system” to the commercial farming world, he said.

These dogs were often housed in pigsties, in closed and cramped quarters, he said.

In 1992, after several revelations in the national media, a growing reputation as a “puppy mill” state, and insistence from animal welfare activists, Missouri lawmakers passed the Care Facilities Act. To animals.

The act established state laws regarding the housing, care, and treatment of animals in animal husbandry facilities, but as Baker pointed out, the “requirements provided only ‘survival’ standards and not humanitarian standards of care”.

Spacing was minimal, wire flooring was permitted, and there were no exercise requirements for animals housed together in a single unit. Food had to be available every 12 hours and water every eight hours.

Laws were regulated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Program, but various problems rendered the system largely ineffective.

A 2001 state audit report concluded that “[state]inspectors failed to properly inspect animal care facilities and dogs were left at risk. Program staff chose to encourage farmers to comply with regulations rather than punish them. »

Inspections were sporadic. The system was overwhelmed, said Debbie Hill, vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Missouri.

“We have continually seen animals come out of facilities with multiple health issues,” she said.

They found dogs with ear infections so severe their ear canals began to close, teeth so rotten they had to be pulled out, and some animals so malnourished their bodies began absorbing their bones to survive. , Hill said.

A 2004 state audit report “found that the majority of findings noted in the first audit of the animal care inspection program were still occurring, four years later.”

By providing state authorities with more legal options, the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act may have improved the effectiveness of Missouri’s animal welfare laws.

“The biggest thing the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act was giving the Missouri Department of Agriculture the power to refer a case to the attorney general’s office for enforcement,” Blome said.

The former assistant state attorney general was tasked with developing — and leading — the Canine Cruelty Prevention Unit, a group of attorneys and staff tasked with enforcing animal welfare laws. being animal from Missouri.

Blome created a website, trained hotline operators, and developed litigation protocols for handling cases.

Once the animal care program builds a case against a non-compliant or substandard breeder, the information would be forwarded to Blome.

“Once I receive MDA’s filing, which included all inspection reports, breeder and investigator statements, and photos, I would draft an injunction petition within a week. “, she said.

“Usually, the breeder would consent to an order with a compliance schedule and pay a fine to be able to resume operations, or, alternatively, the breeder would simply consent to an order shutting them down,” she said.

During his six-year tenure in the attorney general’s office, Blome prosecuted more than 40 breeders, most after the enactment of the Prevention of Canine Cruelty Act.

“I had a 100% success rate,” she said.

“She really did an amazing job,” Baker said.

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