Missouri voters have their say on the state's controversial puppy-mill proposition
As voters across the country go to the polls, many animal lovers are watching one state in particular: Missouri, where debate has been raging for months over a proposition that would impose new regulations on large-scale dog breeding operations.
Proposition B, if approved, would mandate breeders who keep 10 or more female dogs "for the purpose of breeding those animals and selling any offspring for use as a pet" to provide for each:
-- Sufficient food and clean water;
-- Necessary veterinary care;
-- Sufficient housing, including protection from the elements;
-- Sufficient space to turn and stretch freely, lie down and fully extend his or her limbs;
-- Regular exercise; and
-- Adequate rest between breeding cycles.
It would also require that breeders keep no more than 50 unaltered dogs over the age of 6 months. (Read the full text, including definitions of the terms "sufficient," "necessary," "regular" and "adequate" for the purposes of the proposition, at the Missouri Secretary of State's website.) If approved, violations by breeders would be considered misdemeanor offenses and could carry a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail and a $300 fine, according to the Associated Press.
It has the backing of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society of Missouri, Best Friends Animal Society, the American Humane Assn. and other animal-protection organizations and has received the support of several celebrity spokespeople.
Betty White, a longtime animal welfare advocate who is a trustee for the Morris Animal Foundation, recently gave voice to a robocall message that went out to about half a million female voters in the state, according to the Humane Society. St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who founded the no-kill shelter facility Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation with his wife, Elaine, in the early 1990s, appeared in a commercial (below) in support of the proposition.
Proposition B is opposed by the American Kennel Club, which noted a number of reasons for its position in a statement on its website. Among those reasons: The AKC says it "finds the term 'puppy mill cruelty' used in Proposition B to be offensive to responsible breeders," who, it argues, "should be viewed as assets to their communities."
The AKC also noted in its statement that it objects to the proposed limit the number of dogs an individual can own, a position it says "confuses the real issue of animal welfare, which focuses on the quality of care given to animals, not the number of animals an individual owns. Responsible breeders are not defined by the number of dogs kept, or whether they make a profit in selling dogs." (Emphasis is the AKC's, not ours.)
Another group called the Alliance for Truth argues that the puppy-mill bill is just part of what it terms the "radical agenda" of the Humane Society, which it says "seeks only to raise the cost of breeding dogs, making it ever more difficult for middle-class American families to be dog-owners."
Among the Alliance's supporters, as our colleague Patt Morrison noted on Unleashed last month, is Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber. Wurzelbacher wrote that the Humane Society, through its support of Proposition B, is "cowardly [sic] hiding behind animal cruelty, lying to our citizens and taking our constitutional rights away -- one state at a time."
Purebred-dog breeders groups and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Assn. also oppose the proposition, the Associated Press notes.
The Midwest is widely considered the nation's puppy-mill capital, with Missouri a particular hot spot for the large-scale commercial breeding operations. The Humane Society recently released a report (PDF) that said nearly 9,000 puppies from Missouri breeding operations were shipped to California for sale in pet stores or to private buyers through the Internet in 2009. More than two-thirds of those puppies were bound for destinations in Southern California.
[Update 11/3: Missouri voters narrowly approved Proposition B, which is scheduled to go into effect in November 2011.]
-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: A dog in an Ava, Mo., kennel in 2009. Credit: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press