Many Missourians are familiar with the puppy mill discussion that occurred almost five years ago. As the election of 2010 drew near, Proposition B – also known as the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act – gained popularity among voters. Voters favored the act for its attempt to more strictly regulate puppy mills, and subsequently reduce animal cruelty.
On Nov. 7 of that year, 52 percent of voters pushed the proposition through, sparking a debate through the end of the year. Some voters believed the large populations of Kansas City and St. Louis carried the election for the bill. The year 2011 brought a new Missouri legislature and an overhaul of the puppy mill law and its regulations. Now, four years later, has this law had any real impact?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a puppy mill is “a large scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well being of its dogs, who are often severely neglected, and acts without regard to responsible breeding practices.” Proposition B, to the common voter, seemed to be placing strict regulations on large puppy mills. However, it seems the people who felt the most impact from the legislation were dog breeders.
The original bill proposed a strict limit of 50 breeding dogs per business. This regulation was part of the overhaul made by Gov. Jay Nixon and the General Assembly, but it can no longer be found in the legislation. The revised law stipulates that breeders and their facilities are required to be inspected by a veterinarian twice a year in order to keep their licenses. Also, stacked cages must have an impermeable floor.
Other changes came in the form of compromises between the breeders and lawmakers. A middle ground was reached on living-space requirements for the dogs, and breeders were given more time to comply with the newly set regulations. The compromised measure voided the original bill and went into effect immediately.
Many breeders believed the law crossed a line and would put them out of business. After all, approximately 40 percent of all puppies sold in the United States come from Missouri, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The number of state-licensed breeders plummeted after the law was passed. Currently, the Missouri Department of Agriculture reports that there are 824 licensed commercial breeders in the state.
While the controversy seems to be over and the debate has quieted, enforcement of the law has increased. When the law passed, the Missouri Department of Agriculture received a much-needed boost in their Animal Care Program. In 1992, Missouri became one of only a few states with an animal welfare regulatory program.
Since then, it has expanded to include the launch of Operation Bark Alert in 2009. Operation Bark Alert has rescued more than 6,100 dogs from substandard facilities since its inception, according to program director Rachel Heimericks. The program is designed to help animal care inspectors crack down specifically on unlicensed breeders. The department uses an online reporting system and relies on the public.
“With every tip from the public, animal care inspectors visit the location in question to validate the report of animal welfare,” said Heimericks.
In its first year, Operation Bark Alert received hundreds of online tips, which resulted in 40 separate searches, rescues and surrenders. The dogs found in these searches were often neglected.
David Hudson, a veterinarian and University of Missouri alum, describes the diseases and injuries that puppies are susceptible to inside large puppy mills.
“Puppies can be found with bleeding or swollen paws, severe tooth decay, ear infections, dehydration or lesions on their eyes,” he said. “This can often lead to blindness.”
Hudson also said that most puppies in these environments do not get veterinary care or protection from the elements. It is also common to find these dogs with tightly fastened collars that have to be cut out of the dogs’ necks.
Centers like the Central Missouri Humane Society in Columbia care for and try to rehabilitate any dogs they receive from puppy mill rescues.
Julie Aber, director of operations for the humane society, said their mission is to “prevent and alleviate suffering and uncontrolled reproduction of companion animals with emphasis on public education, adoption and providing basic veterinary services for under-served pet owners.”
For now, it seems the rise of puppy mills in Missouri has come to a halt. With the regulations taking a firm hold, along with law enforcement, the trend should continue. With the help of programs such as Operation Bark Alert, Missouri has 987 fewer commercial dog breeders than it did in 2009. And in terms of the puppy mill law, it seems like no news is good news for Missouri.