Missourians to vote on rules for large-scale dog breeders

Missouri VMA opposes ballot initiative, citing need for enforcement of existing regulations
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Missourians will vote Nov. 2 on a ballot initiative that would create tougher rules for dog breeders with more than 10 breeding dogs, including a provision that would limit facilities to 50 breeding dogs.

Leaders of the Missouri VMA believe, however, that the state's problem with substandard dog breeding facilities results mostly from a lack of funding to enforce existing regulations and that limiting facilities to 50 breeding dogs would not improve the situation.

Several state legislatures recently passed new laws targeting substandard, large-scale dog breeding facilities—also known as puppy mills. Three state legislatures limited dog breeders to 50 breeding dogs, according to the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center.

Missouri is the first state with a ballot initiative on dog breeders, according to proponents and opponents.

The AVMA has not taken a position on the specifics of the Missouri measure, although an AVMA policy states that the Association "supports the use of appropriately constituted expert bodies to establish public policy on animal welfare" rather than ballot initiatives. The AVMA also recently released its "Model Bill and Regulations to Assure Appropriate Care for Dogs Intended for Use as Pets," which do not limit the number of dogs in a facility.

Many Missourians think their state's current regulations for dog breeders are insufficient, said Barbara Schmitz, campaign manager for the ballot initiative and Missouri state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Schmitz added, "By having the cap in our measure, we're trying to keep the facilities from having so many dogs to care for that they spiral out of control."

Richard Antweiler, MVMA executive director, said the limit of 50 breeding dogs is arbitrary.

"The number of dogs in a breeding facility is not the issue; it is the quality of care those dogs receive that must be enforced," agreed Dr. Michael C. Muhlbauer, chair of the MVMA Animal Welfare Committee.

The ballot initiative outlines standards for dog breeding facilities similar to requirements in existing regulations, but not as extensive, Dr. Muhlbauer said.

Schmitz said the measure would make specific changes in state standards for dog breeding facilities.

Under current regulations, among other requirements, facilities must provide housing with a minimum amount of space per dog and a solid resting surface. The temperature cannot fall below 50°F for animals not acclimated to lower temperatures. The attending veterinarian decides on exercise frequency, method, and duration, except facilities do not have to provide exercise if housing provides a certain amount of floor space per dog.

Per the ballot initiative, facilities would have to provide dogs with more space and an enclosure with a solid floor. Facilities could not stack housing. The temperature could not fall below 45°F. Facilities could not breed dogs to produce more than two litters in 18 months. Facilities would have to provide dogs with constant access to an outdoor exercise area that provides at least twice the indoor floor space.

Dr. Muhlbauer questioned the practicality of some of the provisions, among his concerns about the ballot initiative.

The ballot initiative also would establish "puppy mill cruelty" as a misdemeanor in Missouri. Schmitz said the goal is to give law enforcement another tool to act on complaints.

Dr. Muhlbauer said operating a dog breeding facility without a license in Missouri already is a misdemeanor. He said the state agriculture department can inspect licensed facilities at any time without a warrant, bringing in law enforcement when necessary to enforce Missouri's anti-cruelty laws.

Antweiler said the MVMA has created a poster and brochure urging Missourians to choose puppies from reputable animal shelters or dog breeders and to report suspicious dog breeders to the state agriculture department's new Operation Bark Alert program.

A table of state laws relevant to dog breeders is available from the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center here.