Last week, investigators in Oklahoma seized over 100 dogs -- mostly Cocker Spaniels and Miniature Poodles -- from a puppy mill in eastern Oklahoma. The dogs were without food and water, in small cages (many without any access to sunlight) and left to walk in their own feces. Nine dogs were found dead -- and several others were found eating each other.
For decades, commercial breeders and even smaller hobby breeders have fought against state-level legislation that would put regulations on large-scale breeding operations. And make no mistake, I'm no fan of over-legislation -- especially when there are other ways of solving the problems.
A couple of quick thoughts on breeding - -just to let people know where I'm coming from:
1) I respect the right of breeders to supply puppies that there is a demand for. If there is a demand for certain types of puppies, then they have the right to supply them. And I've heard too many stories of people denied adoptions to know there isn't demand there.
2) I really respect the right for small-scale breeders who work hard to bring out the best in individual breed traits to do their craft. I do think that is important and a lot of people do a great job at this.
3) I really believe that the majority of people who breed are not horrible people -- and that most want what is best for the animals. Obviously there are some who are just there to make a buck, and they're dragging everyone else down with them.
4) All that said, I don't think the majority of people need a purebred dog for any reason. Most people, for their needs, would be just as well off with a shelter dog -- and would be better off adopting an adult dog and not a puppy as puppies tend to be infinitely more work.
5) Any breeding operation should have good standards for how the dogs are cared for.
However, the time has come for responsible commercial breeders to craft their own legislation on regulating themselves.
The passing of Proposition 2 in California by a 65% margin should send a clear signal to anyone who raises any types of animals for a living -- that people CARE how animals are treated. They don't believe that animals are "products" that can be mistreated. And if 65% of people are willing to vote in favor of better treatment for Chickens, they sure as heck are going to vote for better treatment of companion animals.
Incidences like the one in Oklahoma continue to create an image in people's minds of what a commercial breeding operation is like. Oprah has started highlighting some of the worst in these operations. The term "puppy mill" has become almost synonymous among the general public with commercial breeding operations. I don't think public perception would support commercial breeding operations. And the time has come for the responsible commercial breeders, and hobby breeders, to create their own restrictions that they can live with, but will put an end to these abusive puppy mill operations. (And yes, I make a very clear distinction between the two terms "puppy mill" and "commercial breeder'.)
If it were me, here's what I would propose (I'm open to suggestions):
1) Mandatory licensing for all breeding operations. If the operation produces more than 20 puppies a year (I'm flexible on this number, but the idea is if they produce more than 2 litters a year, they should be subject to regulation), they should have to get a license. Levy SEVERE fines on any operation that is found that is not licensed. This should be ok with any reputable breeding group as they would be licensed.
2) All licensing fees should go to the state department of agriculture to fund inspections officers.
3) All licensed operations should have to meet a minimum standard for care: cleanliness, health of the animals, size of the kennels, etc. Inspections would take place at least twice per year by the inspections officers. At least one of the inspections should be an "unannounced" inspection.
4) Any kennel in consistant violation of codes could be closed down.
Under this proposal, most 'hobby' breeders would be exempt from inspection. I think it would become impractical to inspect every hobby breeder out there. While this would allow for the "backyard breeders" to go uninspected, theoretically, local animal control officers could get abuse/neglect charges in severe cases.
Commercial breeders, that are actually managing the care of their dogs appropriately will be relatively unaffected (assuming that most states have some type of licensing requirement). The licensing fee, if kept at a reasonable cost, would be a cost of doing business....and would not be "unfair" because most businesses in this country require some type of license. They would also benefit from less competitions as unlicensed breeders would be run out of business.
The people who are mistreating and abusing animals will be negatively impacted the most - -and that's exactly what we want.
I know most commercial and hobby breeders don't want regulations. I understand. But the time has come where you may soon no longer have an option. Public perception is not in your favor. It would be best if the breeders got out in front of this create something that will get rid of the folks that are causing horrible PR for "breeding" so that everyone is not shut down. If they don't get out in front of it, they will likely end up with something more restrictive that they won't have any control over. The choice is theirs, at least for now.