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Iowa lawmakers consider new regulations aimed at cracking down on puppy mills

January 25, 2010 |  3:16 pm

Puppy mill

Dog breeders in Iowa would see increased fees and tougher regulations under a measure unveiled today by supporters who called for cracking down on so-called puppy mills that often abuse animals.

Iowa's roughly 400 licensed breeders produce about 20,000 dogs annually, ranking it third nationally behind Missouri and Oklahoma, backers of the measure said at a statehouse news conference.

"We are here to protect those 20,000 dogs," said Davenport Sen. Joe Seng, a Democrat who works as a veterinarian.

Under the measure, the state would increase the licensing fee from the current $20 annually to $100. The extra money would pay for an inspector at the Iowa Department of Agriculture who could respond to complaints at breeding operations.

Breeders in the state now are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but supporters of the new measure argue that the agency's inspectors don't have time to check out complaints about facilities

"It's time to come in and set a fee that's adequate to do the job," said Sen. Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat who is a key backer of the effort.

The measure also would increase penalties for unlicensed facilities, require veterinarians to report animal abuse and tighten enforcement of sales tax collections on animal purchases.

Lawmakers have debated the issue for years, but backers said they are optimistic they'll succeed this year. The measure is expected to be approved by a House committee this week.

The Iowa Federation of Animal Owners opposes the effort, saying most breeders act responsibly and shouldn't have to pay for new regulations. Instead, the group said, it favored targeting unlicensed facilities believed to mistreat animals most frequently.

Farm interests have also been leery of the effort, in part because they claim it's being driven by animal welfare activists.

Backers rejected those arguments and said the measure won't hurt breeders who properly care for animals.

"The bill is a compromise, but it is a good one," said Rep. Jim Lykam, a Democrat representing Davenport. "I'm hopeful that the 2010 session will mark the end of Iowa's reputation for lax enforcement of pet breeding operations."

McCoy said backers would like to put the program in place for a year, then take another look at the fee after they have a sense of the number of complaints that are filed. He conceded that much of the enforcement would be sparked by the industry.

"We're talking about the unlicensed breeders that are operating under the radar screen," McCoy said. "We are asking for help from the legitimate breeders in the state. We believe that there are legitimate breeders in the state who will in fact turn those unlicensed, unregulated breeders over."

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Although this poodle and her puppies were rescued in Pennsylvania by the group Main Line Animal Rescue,  puppy mills are a problem in many parts of the nation. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

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