For the ninth straight year, Missouri had the most "problem puppy mills" on the Humane Society of the United States's annual "Horrible Hundred" report.
But the Missouri Department of Agriculture maintains the report is misleading, and commercial dog breeding facilities are being properly regulated.
The "Horrible Hundred" report contains a sampling of facilities identified as problematic dog breeders and sellers. Since the list's inception, Missouri has had the most cases featured on the list.
Sami Jo Freeman, communications administrator for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, pointed to three factors that put Missouri with the most cases on the list.
Missouri has regulations for commercial dog breeders, an enforcement agency in the Missouri Department of Agriculture and it releases thorough records of inspections.
These three factors are not found in every state, and the Humane Society of the United States even disclaims "the large number of listings in certain states in this report is at least partly due to the greater availability of records in some states." Because of this, only 16 states are in the report, and states that don't inspect puppy mills at all aren't included.
"Those three things together make it likely that Missouri will be on the list, but, honestly, it's the result of us doing a good job," Freeman said.
Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, gave another viewpoint into why Missouri had the most cases on the report.
"The reason why we make the list every year is that we just have so many commercial dog breeders in our state," Baker said. "In fact, we probably have more licensed commercial dog breeders in Missouri than the next three states combined."
Baker went on to say it is still a problem, and there isn't an excuse for the abusive operators.
Freeman pointed out several other details in the report she found to be misleading.
The report said Missouri reduced its inspections of facilities during COVID-19. In reality, the department didn't change its inspection policy. Although inspections did decrease in 2020, it was only by four. The change from 2,914 inspections in 2019 to 2,910 inspections in 2020 translates to a 0.2 percent drop, and the 2020 inspection total was above the five-year average.
The Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation touts several legislative victories that have affected commercial dog breeding. The Animal Care Facilities Act passed in 1992 requires commercial dog breeders to be licensed and regulated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The most recent change, the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act, allowed the attorney general to take action against bad breeders and closed more than 1,200 commercial dog breeders due to their failure to comply with the new standards.
"The standards of care increased dramatically," Baker said, adding that dogs had to be put in larger cages and have access to the outdoors. "Many of these dogs in the past were just warehoused in barns, never seeing the light of day."
With the law only able to be modified by the Legislature or ballot initiatives, the Missouri Department of Agriculture isn't able to change many things about how it regulates commercial dog breeding facilities.
"We don't create the laws, but we enforce them," Freeman said. "We're confident in the job that we're doing."
While Baker said the state of Missouri, especially Attorney General Eric Schmitt, is doing a good job of regulating commercial dog breeders, he talked about proposed legislation from the past legislative session he thinks would be detrimental to dogs' safety.
Some of these bills included provisions that would remove dog breeder inspections by local authorities and prohibit animals to be removed from their abusers before criminal trials.
"The welfare of animals is constantly under attack here in Missouri," Baker said.