On Tuesday, the state of Missouri will vote on several state offices and initiatives -- including Proposition B.
Prop B, The "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act" is a bill that would put more strict policies on commercial dog breeders in the state, including:
-- Require food, water, necessary vet care and housing protected from the elements
-- Sufficient space to turn and stretch freely and lie down
-- "Unfettered" access to the outdoors for animals, and minimum and maximum temperature requirements for dogs
-- Regular exercise and rest between breeding cycles
-- And limits ownership to no more than 50 breeding dogs
You can read the proposition in the entirety here.
The initiative seems like a no-brain er when taken on the face-value of the ballot-language -- which is why a recent poll shows that 69% of Missourians support Prop B. But unfortunately, not everything is as simple as it seems.
To set the record straight, I am writing this as someone who is actively involved in animal welfare issues -- and actively work with rescue groups. I've never bred a dog or made a penny off of breeding dogs. And yes, I acknowledge that many commercial breeders take horrible care of their animals and that the mess does need to be cleaned up. Unfortunately, Prop B is not the solution.
Yes, much of the ballot language (feeding, watering, vet care) are complete no-brainers -- which is why they have been a part of the current state law for nearly 2 decades. Much of the initiative is already included in the current law that governs commercial breeders, The Animal Care Facilities Act, in fact many of the initiatives in Prop B actually weaken the current law (including requiring feeding only once a day and having the requirement affect only those operations with 10+ breeding animals when the ACFA impacts those facilities with 3+ breeding animals).
The Missouri Vet Medical Association (which has come out opposed to Prop B) has a detailed overview comparing the two proposals so you can see the side by side comparison between the two laws that I think is definitely worth taking a look at.
As you can see, the changes in the actual care for the animals are actually quite minimal.
Prop B appears to be kind of an off-the-shelf approach to solving Missouri's puppy mill issues (the law is amazingly similar to a law that was passed in Washington 2 years ago), yet doesn't seem to solve the real problem with Missouri's commercial breeders.
The real problem stems from a long-term complete lack of enforcement of the current laws that has led us to get into this mess.
According to the ASPCA (who support Prop B), there are 3,000 commercial breeders in the state. However, according to USDA number, there are only 1525 breeders that are licensed in the state. With so many unlicensed breeders, and so many breeders altogether for only 13 inspectors, it isn't a huge surprise that enforcement of the current law might be an issue. And in fact, it is.
According to the most recent state audit of the Missouri Department of Ag, in 2007, only 60% of all licensed breeding facilities were even inspected (even though the state law requires each facility to be inspected). This failure to even do basic services like inspections, was mirrored in a USDA audit that highlighted their own ineptness.
Fortunately, the recent state audit inspired the start of Operation Bark Alert -- that led to the closing down of 164 breeding facilities and saving 3500 dogs in its first year of operation (2009) -- and 180 breeding facilities being closed down so far in 2010.
The problem in the state of Missouri doesn't appear to be the lack of laws -- clearly under Operation Bark Alert, many of the worst-of-the-worst breeding facilities have been closed down already -- it is the overall lack of enforcement that has been driving the majority of the state's "puppy mill" problem.
Prop B could actually make problems worse. The 50 breeding dog limit creates several scenarios that may make the situation worse. With the limited number of breeding dogs, many of the large breeding facilities will put their "excess" breeding dogs up for auction -- likely leading to one of two scenarios a) many of the dogs ending up at state rescues and shelters where they will likely end up "euthanized" at the area shelters or b) many very large breeding operations being broken into several smaller breeding operations that will make the state's enforcement issues worse, not better.
The end result could be making the enforcement problems worse, or the deaths of thousands of dogs.
Prop. B seems like an off-the-shelf solution to the state's problems that not only are not addressing the state's enforcement issues, but may be making it worse. This may be why the spokespersons from Prop B are largely out-of-state spokespeople - -Betty White as a part of the robocalls in favor of the bill, Bob Barker doing radio interviews,Tony La Russa (who lives in California in spite of his job as the coach of the St. Louis Cardinals) doing TV commercials, and Wayne Pacelle, of the Humane Society of the United States also on the spokesperson front.
While on the surface, Prop B seems like a "no brain er" type of law -- it isn't. It actually mirrors a lot of what is in the current laws, has dramatic unintended consequences for some new areas of the law, and doesn't even begin to deal with the primary issue of poor enforcement that has led to this problem in the first place.
A vote against Prop B is not a vote in favor of Puppy Mills. In no way, shape or form should anyone support the cruel treatment of animals. And Missouri DOES have a problem with puppy mills. But Prop B is not the solution we've all been waiting for.