Missouri voters decide whether to tighten dog breeder rules

Dog breeders would face tougher rules about housing, veterinary care and diet if voters approve a ballot measure designed to crack down on what some animal rights activists have labeled the nation’s “puppy mill capital.”

Proposition B would beef up Missouri’s existing laws by restricting commercial breeders to no more than 50 female dogs for breeding, increasing the size of dogs’ living spaces and by requiring commercial breeders to have their dogs examined yearly by a veterinarian.

The measure, which would not apply to operators with fewer than 10 breeding dogs, also would require the animals to be fed daily and not be bred more than twice every 18 months. Breeders also would have to house animals indoors with unfettered access to an outdoor exercise yard.

Violations would be a misdemeanor carrying up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.

The Humane Society of the United States said the measure — drafted partly by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — is needed to better regulate Missouri’s 1,400 licensed commercial dog breeders and the hundreds of suspected breeders who operate under the radar.

Animal rights groups estimate that about 30 percent to 40 percent of dogs found in pet stores come from Missouri, which they say is home to more than one-fifth of the commercial dog-breeding sites in the U.S.

Proposition B’s opponents, including breeder groups and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, claim the measure could force some breeders out of business with extra costs and the threat of prosecution. Some also claim the measure could lead to restrictions on other animal agriculture.

Critics also argue that existing Missouri laws already require adequate food, water, shelter, care and exercise.

Missouri’s efforts to quell substandard, large-scale dog breeding last year produced the oversight-minded Operation Bark Alert, a Missouri Department of Agriculture hotline to target unlicensed and breeders. The department also added two new inspectors.

Since then, Missouri issued about 366 more breeder violations than the previous year, and the state has rescued about 3,700 dogs.

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