By Christie Keith
June 25, 2010
I’ve blogged before about how I’m sick to death of the puppy mill apologists who have somehow convinced ethical, dog-loving breeders to stay out of the anti-puppy mill fight with the old “slippery slope” argument. You know, the one that says PETA is right, and when it comes to legislation and regulation, a “breeder is a breeder is a breeder”?
Not that I’m bitter or anything.
I’m actually not a fan of legislation for most issues like this, preferring to educate people and hurt bad breeders in their pocketbooks. After all, I am absolutely sure the government’s rules for “good” dog breeding and mine are still going to be worlds apart, because a clean, vet-inspected, well-lit puppy mill is not even remotely okay with me. Family pets should come from family homes, not the dog world’s version of “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs), or as people used to call them and I still do, “factory farms.”
Besides, many large scale breeding operations are already regulated by the government, although enforcement is almost non-existent even of their totally inadequate provisions. Even for those who want to find another way, it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to deny that legislation and regulation have enormous appeal to most people fighting puppy mills.
Which leaves me at least in a very uncomfortable place, namely, being asked my advice on “model legislation,” particularly the most contentious issue of all, “How many dogs makes someone a puppy mill?”
My view is that there is no number that makes a breeder a miller. After all, in the golden age of dog showing, wealthy fanciers maintained huge kennels, with hundreds of dogs, who lived in the care of a large resident staff, often in considerable luxury.
And today, working dog kennels routinely house large numbers of dogs who are healthier, happier and more active than most of America’s over-fed and under-exercised family pets. I can tell you right now, I’d rather be a retriever living in a good hunting kennel than in a suburban backyard 24/7.
And if we’re going to talk numbers and quality of life, I’m quite sure a hell of a lot of animal shelters couldn’t even pass the current regulations for commercial dog breeding facilities.
All that said, I have to admit I believe there is a number, or a range, at which it’s no longer possible for a single person or couple to raise good family pets, let alone keep your dogs happy and healthy. I just have no idea how to put that in a regulation, because that number would vary from situation to situation, breed to breed, as well as with the amount of staff devoted to caring for the dogs. The age of the great old show kennels is gone, but a family could still operate somewhat the same way — I know a handful of multi-generation dog families who keep between everyone perhaps as many as a hundred dogs, and manage to do right by all of them.
Right now, current laws regulate only kennels that sell puppies for third party sales; dog farms that sell directly to the consumer, whether it’s at their own facility or over the Internet, fall between the cracks. There’s a proposal right now in Congress to regulate those breeders to the same minimal standards that apply to other puppy mills, excuse me, of course, I mean “high volume commercial breeders,” and it kicks in when someone sells 50 or more puppies in a year. From McClatchy News:
It’s called the PUPS Act, short for Puppy Uniform Protection Statute. It’s aimed at cracking down on puppy mills, facilities where dogs often are forced to live in small cages. Among other things, the measure would force breeders to give their dogs the chance to exercise for at least an hour each day.
Backers say the legislation would clamp down on the most negligent and irresponsible dog breeders while closing a loophole in current law that allows thousands of commercial breeders to go unregulated. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.
Under the current law, facilities that breed dogs for commercial resale must be licensed and inspected under the federal Animal Welfare Act, but puppy mills that sell directly to the public are exempt. As a result, large breeders can escape inspection and oversight by selling their puppies online, with consumers often discovering later that they’ve bought sick or abused animals.
“It can be very disappointing to see a family whose cherished pet has a condition that could have been prevented with more careful scrutiny by the USDA,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “So I think that it’s very appropriate for us to deal with it here.”
Even if you believe in this approach, there are problems here. Can’t millers just spread ownership of the dogs around among family members, and escape hitting the magic number? Do we not care about the puppies whose owners only hit 49? Toy breeds are most prevalent in puppy mills, and have tiny litters — a perfectly wonderful kennel of big dogs could hit 50 puppies in as few as four litters, while a toy breed miller might not get there at all, but still be churning out sickly, badly bred, unsocialized puppies.
This is a contentious issue that isn’t going away. And I’m starting to feel like maybe we’ve hit the wall with the education approach, and we’re going to have to start taking a legislative and regulatory approach to show that yes, we’re really serious about shutting this industry down, and returning the production of family pets to where it belongs: family homes.
For those who are new to the puppy mill discussion on Pet Connection, let me be clear: We believe that breeding is honorable and valuable, and that good breeders shouldn’t be siding with puppy mills and laying low but standing up and demanding an end to the stigma against dog breeding. Gina and I both have had rescue dogs and dogs from breeders, and have bred dogs ourselves.
But as we work towards that day, is there a role for legislation in stopping the abuse of dogs in puppy mills? Can you imagine a law or regulation that would actually help without making it even harder for good, caring breeders to produce the next generation of beloved family companions?
And what do we do about the other honorable breeders, those who produce working dogs? Many times those who write these proposed laws express a willingness to “exempt” them, then write the laws in such a way that such an exemption is in name only. Is it possible to write legislation that provides protection for all dogs from inhumane treatment, but doesn’t penalize those who are appropriately raising working and companion dogs?
And last, am I wrong? Is it possible to do this without legislation? If so, what can be done that hasn’t already been tried?
My mind is open, but for me, the clock is ticking. Talk to me.