Missouri dog law deal announced

JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to repeal a law approved by voters that clamps down on Missouri dog breeders took a new twist Monday as several agricultural and animal advocacy groups agreed to support a fresh plan that would repeal some of the law’s restrictions and give puppy producers extra time to comply with its mandates.

The compromise arrived just days after the Missouri Legislature voted to repeal and replace key parts of “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” which was passed by voters statewide in November.

The plan announced Monday would also need to win approval in the legislature and be signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, who has yet to act on the more strident legislation that passed last week.

Nixon said the compromise deal “respects the will of the voters, protects dogs and allows responsible breeders to earn a living in our state.” The agreement was brokered by Nixon’s Department of Agriculture, which regulates dog breeders, and was signed by several state-based advocacy groups who had been on opposite sides of the debate.

But several national animal rights groups that helped finance the ballot measure, known as Proposition B, said Monday they wouldn’t support the revised approach.

“Missouri voters want to turn around the state’s reputation as the puppy mill capital of America, and the common-sense standards for dog breeding enacted with Prop B should not be jettisoned,” said Ed Sayres, president and CEO of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Some dog breeders had complained the requirements of the voter-approved law — namely the limit on breeding dogs and new housing requirements — could force them out of business by requiring them to make costly renovations while limiting their ability to make money.

“This is going to allow breeders to make some adjustments to some things and to stay in business,” said Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koelztown.

Loehner and Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, had handled the repeal effort recently passed by the Legislature. Both said Monday they support the revised plan to rewrite the law. Lawmakers would have to act relatively quickly, because their annual session ends May 13.

As with the repeal already approved by lawmakers, the new plan would repeal a voter-approved maximum of 50 breeding dogs per business and a provision that could have sent dog breeders to jail for first-time violations of the initiative’s new dog care requirements.

The new plan strikes a potential middle ground on the specifics of the living-space requirements and gives breeders more time to comply with the state’s new rules.

The original law approved by voters, which is scheduled to take effect this November, requires an indoor floor space of at least 25 square feet for small dogs, 30 square feet for medium-size dogs and 35 square-feet for large dogs. The repeal recently passed by the Legislature would simply require “appropriate space” as determined by the Department of Agriculture.

The new plan also would delete the voter-approved indoor space requirements. But the state’s existing space requirements would be doubled for current dog-breeding businesses by January 2012 and tripled by January 2016. Any dog-housing facilities constructed after last Friday also would have to comply with the tripled space requirements right away.

The new plan would require dogs to have access to food and water at least twice daily — an increase from the ballot measure’s once daily mandate — but would soften the voter-approved law by inserting the word “generally” in front of a requirement that water be free of debris, feces, algae and other contaminants.

The latest plan also seeks to strike a compromise on veterinary visits to dog breeders. The voter-approved law requires at least one yearly exam with prompt treatment for any illness or injury. The recently passed repeal would replace that with two annual visual inspections, which would not necessarily need to be hands-on exams. The revised proposal announced Monday would revert to one yearly exam but require prompt treatment only of a “serious illness or injury.”

The agreement also was signed by the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, which supported the ballot initiative, and by several groups that had backed a legislative rewrite of the voter-approved law — the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, Missouri Pet Breeders Association and Missouri Farmers Care.

The deal split the state chapter of The Humane Society and the national organization. Kathy Warnick, the president of the Humane Society of Missouri, said in a written statement that her group “believes this landmark agreement will ensure for decades to come what the majority of Missourians want — humane standards of care for Missouri’s breeding dogs.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of national Humane Society, said, “The will of the people should be respected, and this deal falls far short of the animal care standards that Missouri voters approved.”

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