Gov. Nixon signs changes to Missouri dog-breeding law

By CHRIS BLANK

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Wednesday repealing key parts of a voter-approved dog-breeding law as part of an agreement for lawmakers to consider still more changes to the state’s regulations for dog breeders.

The legislation strikes key parts of the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” passed last November by voters, including a limit of 50 breeding dogs per business and various details about how dogs must be fed, watered and housed. Instead, the bill grants the Department of Agriculture greater discretion on dog-housing rules and raises the fees paid by breeders to finance the state’s regulatory efforts.

But Nixon’s signature on the legislation is not likely to be the final word for a dog-breeding industry that has an estimated $1 billion impact in Missouri.

Lawmakers are expected to consider further changes to the state’s dog-breeding laws as part of a compromise plan brokered by Nixon’s administration among state-based agriculture animal welfare groups. National animal advocacy groups, which helped finance the 2010 ballot measure, have said they would consider a petition drive to put the measure back on the ballot if it is changed by state officials.

The debate about Missouri’s dog-breeding laws prompted large competing rallies last week, just blocks apart at the Governor’s Mansion and the state Capitol. Nixon’s office says it received thousands of letters and emails from people about the dog legislation.

Supporters of the voter-approved law said Missouri’s previous regulations for breeders were too weak, allowing operators to keep dogs in wire cages and exposed to excess heat and cold. Critics of the voter-backed law have said it would wipe out the dog-breeding industry by forcing costly renovations to facilities and effectively limiting how many dogs the businesses can sell.

The ballot measure, called Proposition B, was approved by about 52 percent of the statewide vote as supporters in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas outweighed opposition in much of the rest of the state. The initiative was scheduled to take effect as law this November. The bill Nixon signed would supersede that by making changes that take effect Aug. 28. But the latest deal brokered by Nixon’s administration could kick in before that, if lawmakers approve.

Nixon said the latest agreement is designed to increase protections for dogs and allow breeders to remain in business. It has won support from several state-based agriculture and animal welfare groups, but several national groups that helped finance the ballot measure said they did not support the proposal.

House leaders have said they would consider the deal brokered by Nixon’s administration after the first overhaul legislation was signed into law.

“If we can make some small changes that the ag community is OK with that would make the animal rights groups more comfortable, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do,” said House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville.

The legislation signed into law Wednesday by Nixon rolls back various new requirements for the dogs’ living conditions. For example, the bill replaces a requirement that indoor dog pens have sufficient space for animals to turn around in a circle and stretch out freely while lying down with a rule that dogs have appropriate space, depending on the species, as set forth in regulations by the Department of Agriculture. It also sets licensing costs at up to $2,500 instead of the current $500 maximum, and imposes an additional $25 annual fee to finance state efforts to crack down on unlicensed dog breeders.

Nixon’s compromise 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 required 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 compromise would double the state’s previous minimum space requirements by January 2012 and triple them by January 2016 for existing breeders. Any dog-housing facilities constructed after April 15 would have to comply with the tripled space requirements immediately.

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