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Will South Carolina crack down on puppy mills?

COLOMBIA — In parts of South Carolina, hundreds of dogs are kept at one site — often in unsanitary conditions — to raise puppies sold in pet stores across the state and beyond.

The way these breeders do business has little or no oversight by the state, allowing the operation of “puppy mills” that critics say are bad for dogs and people.

But that could change if lawmakers adopt South Carolina’s first-ever requirements for a commercial dog-breeding license.

A proposal at SC House would set standards for how dogs can be kept and require inspections to breed and sell dogs – allowing the state to crack down on puppy mill operations.

Proponents say it is an authority the state needs.

Bobby Arthur, director of an Aiken County animal shelter, told lawmakers Tuesday he had seen hundreds of dogs removed from a puppy mill operator. But that only happened after the conditions were equated to animal cruelty – the point at which animal control officers can now get involved.

“It has to be complaint-driven,” Arthur said of the current system. “We are not welcome, we have to go get a warrant.”

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Dana Long has a little more leeway.

Long is an animal control officer in Orangeburg County, where a local ordinance requires inspections of any dog ​​breeder who has more than one breeding female.

“We had two little old ladies who had 172 dogs between them in horrible conditions,” Long told lawmakers, adding that her county’s ordinance allowed inspectors to demand that conditions be improved.

“We went back and the conditions had improved a lot,” she said.

Unsanitary conditions are not only bad for dogs, but can become a problem for new pet owners.

Long says his department dealt with an outbreak of mange that he attributed to puppies being sold on Facebook. Puppy mill dogs can also transmit diseases to their humans.

“They bought a pup because it was cute and fluffy, but soon discovered they had been duped because of its poor condition,” said Marli Drum, superintendent of Columbia Animal Services.

Drum and others told lawmakers on Tuesday they would like to see even tighter restrictions on breeders than those proposed by lawmakers. The proposal currently before a House panel would define a commercial breeder as someone with 20 or more breeding females.

That number should be reduced to five to seven, said Barbara Nelson, president of the Society’s Albrecht Center for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Aiken.

However, some state officials were concerned that the proposal would give inspectors too much leeway to inspect private homes, where many ranchers operate.

“I have concerns about the Fourth Amendment,” said state Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-Charleston. “If this bill is passed, they expose themselves to warrantless searches of their homes.”

But Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, likened the bill to home child care centers inspected by the state Department of Social Services, where she previously worked.

“One of the issues we encountered when inspecting child care centers was that people didn’t want the DSS to come in, walk through the rooms, pull the shower curtains,” she said. “If you operate a business from your home that requires regulation, you submit to a preview of your private residence.”

Gilmore-Futeral added that South Carolina is one of the few states that no longer requires a breeder’s license.

“It makes us a magnet for people who can’t reproduce in other states,” she said, “because we don’t watch them at all.”

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