Prop B puts restrictions on Missouri dog breeders

A ballot initiative in Missouri that would create stricter laws for commercial dog breeders has pitted animal rights activists who call Missouri the “puppy mill capital of the nation” against those who claim the measure could put breeders out of business.

Proposition B, which is on the Nov. 2 ballot, would beef up Missouri’s current laws in part by restricting commercial breeders to no more than 50 breeding dogs, increasing the size of dogs’ living spaces and by requiring that commercial breeders have their dogs examined each year by a veterinarian.

The measure, which would not apply to breeders with fewer than 10 female breeding dogs, would also create the misdemeanor crime of puppy mill cruelty for violations.

Supporters, like the Humane Society of the U.S., say the measure is needed to help police the 1,400 licensed commercial dog breeders in Missouri, which also has hundreds of suspected unlicensed breeders.

Animal rights groups have estimated that about 30 percent to 40 percent of dogs found in pet stores come from Missouri.

“Missouri has the reputation of puppy mill capital of the country for a reason,” said Cori Menkin, spokeswoman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which helped draft Proposition B.

“It has more puppy mills than any other state in the country, so improving the standard of care of dogs in large commercial breeding facilities there will impact more dogs than any other state.”

Opponents of Proposition B, 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 for violations. Some also claim the measure could lead to restrictions on other animal agriculture.

“We already have laws in Missouri that require adequate food, water, shelter, care, exercise, etc.,” said Anita Andrews, spokeswoman for Alliance For Truth, which has been fighting Proposition B.

“So the only difference between this law and the current law we have is that it makes it a misdemeanor crime of cruelty where breeders can be put in jail for things as stupid as having a piece of dog food in a water bowl,” she said.

“Their goal really is to stop agribusiness in any form.”

Barbara Schmitz, campaign manager for Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, a coalition of several animal rights groups working to support Proposition B, said concerns about such things as prosecutions over food in water bowls are “a distortion.”

“You can take any language that’s being proposed, and then you can stomp, twist or beat it into saying anything you want,” Schmitz said. “The reality is this is a common sense measure, and it will be enforced in a common sense manner.”

And, Proposition B would only affect dogs at large-scale breeding facilities, she said.

“It’s a single subject, and that subject is puppy mills,” Schmitz said. “There is no other agenda.”

Jon Hagler, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said since 2009, when Gov. Jay Nixon took office, Missouri has taken steps to improve oversight of dog breeders.

The department started Operation Bark Alert, a hotline to target unlicensed and substandard breeders, and also added two new inspectors. Since then, Missouri issued about 366 more breeder violations than the previous year, according to the department.

There are also about 350 fewer breeders now in Missouri than there were before January 2009, and the state has rescued about 3,700 dogs, the department said.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric flying around,” Hagler said. “We have an exceptional program.”

Hagler also took exception to calling Missouri the “puppy mill capital.”

“I think that’s an unfortunate label that again has much to do with the fact that we started tracking before anybody else. We’ve kept a program intact longer than anyone else,” he said.

Hagler, who said he and the department don’t take positions on ballot measures, said the current animal welfare laws in Missouri are “great.”

“That’s not to say they cannot be tweaked. That’s not to say they couldn’t be improved. But a lot of these things, we have been able to address administratively.”

Hagler also said it’s not clear that restricting breeders to fewer than 50 breeding dogs will increase quality of care.

“Size and quality are not correlated together,” he said. “Sometimes larger facilities are able to provide more resources and staff.”

Schmitz, however, said the current laws are inadequate, and Proposition B is needed to set a standard of care for dogs at facilities, both licensed and unlicensed.

“The law is so vague that it allows the facility if it wants to cut corners,” she said. “We’re trying to tighten this up significantly.”

Tami Cotton, who said she breeds boxers in southwest Missouri, opposes Proposition B, even though it would not apply to her because she has fewer than 10 breeding dogs.

“I think it’s just a crock,” she said. “I know there are puppy mills out there, but I also think they’re trying to shut down the good people, and I think that’s wrong.”

Proposition B

On Nov. 2, Missourians will vote on Proposition B, which would apply to owners with more than 10 female breeding dogs.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? If Proposition B passes, commercial dog breeders would, among other things, be required to have increased space for dogs, limit the time between dogs’ breeding cycles and have no more than 50 breeding dogs. Violators would be subject to the misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty.”

CRITICS/SUPPORTERS: The measure has been opposed by the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association and some breeder groups. Proposition B supporters include the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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