Last week, Chicago’s City Council voted to prohibit the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in the city’s pet stores. The ban, which goes in effect next March is aimed at plugging the pipeline from puppy mills – the inhumane mass breeding operations that sell to pet stores – to Chicago. Meanwhile, Iowa lawmakers are considering a measure (S.F. 2254) aimed at more tightly regulating Iowa puppy mills.
As lawmakers consider the measure, some of the usual suspects are voicing opposition – the large-scale breeders it’s meant to legislate. But, a surprising group is taking aim at the law – the American Kennel Club (AKC) – the same group that many people think are protecting dogs and upholding breed standards. For years, Iowa puppy mills have been one of the biggest providers of dogs to Chicago-area pet stores.
Tightening the laws in Iowa
“The USDA is stepping up and doing a better job regulating breeders under their constraints,” says Mary LaHay, founder of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals. Her group is spearheading the measure. “In order to truly regulate Iowa puppy mill, we need closer oversight at the state level to increase the standard of care. The Iowa Department of Agriculture needs the authority to enforce Iowa laws. The USDA doesn’t have that authority.”
Of the top five dog breeding states, Iowa is the only one that doesn’t have state oversight over the mass breeding operations. With 250 puppy mills housing around 15,000 dogs, Iowa is the second largest state in dog production (Missouri is the first). Data from 2013 shows that 40 percent of Iowa dog licensees had violation in 2013. There are only two federal inspectors for the state.
“As with any federal agency, their concern is always about federal laws and not what is legislated on a local or statewide basis. For example, you don’t expect the FBI to enforce local laws. That is what local law enforcement is for,” adds LaHay. “If we had the state oversight we are asking for in the bill, we could have shutdown Debra Pratt’s puppy mill a lot more quickly.”
Debra Pratt’s Iowa puppy mill amassed violation after violation over a several year period. The USDA wrote her up but had little authority to take action. Last spring, her dogs were auctioned off – at a profit for Pratt. Rescuers visiting her puppy mill described it as one of the worst they’d ever seen.
She finally lost her license in August when she struck a deal with the state. Even though federal inspection reports were part of the public record, no one locally took action.
More humane operations
“The new laws are focusing on making conditions more livable at breeding operations,” says LaHay. “We want to move out of the middle-ages to increase the standard of care. Currently, laws require that cages only be six-inches longer and wider than the length of a dog. This law will triple that. It also would require that a portion of the caged floor have solid flooring.”
Many dogs in these facilities live their whole life in a cage – eating, sleeping, eliminating and breeding. Usually, there isn’t proper ventilation. The stench of ammonia from pet waste is horrid in the mills. Dogs are stuck there without a break. The proposed law would require breeders to give their dogs unfettered access to the outdoors for fresh air and to exercise.
It also would require that all dogs have annual wellness checks with a veterinarian at Iowa puppy mills. Currently, vets come in and check the facility to make sure policies are in place to respond to an emergency, they don’t need to check on the dogs. Annual wellness exams could catch some health issues, parasites, distemper and brucellosis.
“It also would increase fees and set up a remediation fund,” adds LaHay. “A similar fund is set up for agricultural farming to protect taxpayers from incurring costs when agricultural animals need to be rescued.”
The fight against the law
The proposed changes in Iowa law are similar to a compromise bill made between animal welfare supporters and breeders in Missouri several years ago. While there is opposition in the agriculture sector in Iowa, the biggest battle is being waged by the AKC, the same group that holds the high end dog shows and issues papers for dogs.
“The AKC is pushing us hard and put the fear of God into hobby breeders even though most of the changes in the law will have little effect on their business,” says LaHay. “Guidelines are for any breeder with four or more breeding dogs – which was the law before. Many small time or hobby breeders had been operating outside that law and didn’t realize it until now.”
For many of the smaller breeders, the rest of what they are doing is above and beyond the current standards. In most cases, the smaller breeders are already working with a vet. Often the dogs they breed wouldn’t fall under the cage standards because they are living indoors with the breeders and their families. Other breeders have larger out buildings surrounded by fenced in yards. Those dogs also get tons of social interaction and plenty of fresh air and outdoor time.
Small breeders do face an increase in fees, but that is still being negotiated. The bulk of the new legislation won’t effect small breeders. Yet, the AKC has focused on them and managed to get many of them to believe the proposed laws will put them out of business.
“How can you say you are upholding your breed standards…that you are a group that loves dogs…and not go to bat for them here in Iowa,” says LaHay. “The Pratt case shows how bad some of the puppy mills are and how hard it is to protect the dogs under those situations. The AKC has waged similar wars in other states trying to set up better regulations to protect the dogs.”
At upcoming public hearings, some of the states highly respected breeders will be working with Iowa Voters for Companion Animals to better explain how the changes would effect smaller breeders. LaHay says licensing fees would be going up for smaller breeders, but that change is still under consideration as the bill makes its way through the legislature.
Tomorrow, we’ll focus on why the AKC fights for puppy mills and continues to back a business that profits greatly off the cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs.
For more about Iowa puppy mills and the new Chicago ordinance read:
- Project Mercy: English bulldogs rescued from puppy mill
- Victor's new life
- Iowa shutter's Pratt puppy mill, but what took so long
- The Pratt puppy mill and the 17 dogs left behind
- Chicago bans puppy mill sales in pet stores
- Chicago expected to ban puppy mill sales in pet stores tomorrow
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