Meat biz barks for puppy mills

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From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2011:

Meat biz barks for puppy mills

Puppymill victims (Courtesy: Adrienne, Flickr)

JEFFERSON CITY,  Mo.–Rural Missouri lawmakers backed by agribusiness hope to overturn the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, approved by almost a million voters in November 2010–52% of the electorate–as Proposition B on the state ballot.

Leading the lobbying effort against the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is Missourians for Animal Care,  a coalition including the Missouri Agribusiness Associ-ation,  Missouri Cattlemen’s Association,  Missouri Corn Growers Association,  Missouri Dairy Association,  Missouri Egg Producers,  Missouri Equine Council, Missouri Farm Bureau,  Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, Missouri Livestock Marketing Association,  Missouri Pet Breeders Association,  Missouri Pork Associ-ation,  Missouri Soybean Association,  the Poultry Federation,  the Professional Pet Association,  and two financial institutions.

The debate has national import,  partly because of the extent to which Missouri dog breeders have been able to recruit support from the major branches of animal agriculture.  Bills similar to the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act are under consideration in several other states,  including Nebraska and West Virginia.  Local ordinances meant to curb backyard breeding have recently passed in several states without strong puppy mill legislation,  with other ordinance proposals pending.  Most notably,  though,  Missouri breeders are believed to produce about a third of all puppies sold in U.S. pet stores,  nationwide.  More than  1,400 dog breeders are registered with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and/or hold USDA permits to sell dogs interstate.  Perhaps as many breeders  operate in Missouri without permits.

The Missouri senate agriculture committee on January 27, 2011 ratified a bill that would erase the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act limit of 50 dogs per breeder,  and would give licensed breeders up to six months to correct violations without being charged with a misdemeanor offense.  This in effect would allow breeders to raise a litter in violation of the standards,  sell the litter,  and then be technically in compliance with the act again until the birth of another litter–at which point they would get another six-month grace period.

Missouri state senator Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) is pushing complete repeal of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.  Parson contends that “The wording of the voter-passed law is so vague that it could be extended to cows,  horses,  sheep and all other livestock crucial to Missouri’s trade and economy,”  summarized Columbia Missourian reporter Audrey Moon after a January 2011 legislative hearing.  “Although Proposition B was described as a bill dealing with dog breeders,”  Moon explained,  “it includes a definition of a pet that covers any ‘domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner.'”

Responded Humane Society of Missouri president Kathy Warnick, “Proposition B applies to dogs and puppies.  There is no other reference to any other species.”

“The purpose of these groups is to keep us from eating any meat,”  retorted Missouri house representative Ed Schieffer (D-Troy). “We have to be very cognizant,”  Schieffer insisted,  “that there is an agenda here beyond Proposition B.”

Missouri house representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) has proposed retitling the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,  to become the Dog Breeders Cruelty Prevention Act–to make the law easier to amend.

Missouri house majority whip Jason Smith (R-Salem) has contended that the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act should only be enforced in the 11 counties,  of 114, where the majority of voters favored it.  But Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian pointed out that the 11 counties that passed Proposition B are home to more voters,  by far,  than all of the other 103 counties combined.

“Back in December 2010,  when the election was weeks old,” Markaran recalled,  “Senator Bill Stouffer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  ‘If you look at the Proposition B votes,  if every legislator votes the way their district voted,  it will repeal easily.’  And Senator Mike Parson said,  ‘If the legislators vote their districts,  we will be able to do that.’  But they apparently forgot to check the votes.  Proposition B was favored in 18 of the 34 Missouri senate districts,  and 88 of the 163 house districts.” Noted Markarian,  “State representative Sally Faith (R-St. Charles) cosponsored two repeal bills,  even though more than 65% of the voters in her district supported Proposition B.  She changed her mind,  after hearing from her district,  and said she will now oppose the repeal efforts.”


Poll favors regulation

A law similar to the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is soon to take effect in Oklahoma,  requiring dog and cat breeders with more than 10 breeding females to be licensed and inspected by a fee-funded state Board of Commercial Pet Breeders.  Opponents of puppy mill legislation have hoped to gain momentum from the anti-regulatory fervor generated by the Tea Party movement,  but a telephone survey of 520 likely Oklahoma voters conducted for the Tulsa World during the first week of January 2011 found that more than 70% agree that large pet breeding operations should be regulated,  while fewer than 15% oppose regulating them, reported World staff writer Randy Krehbiel.

“Support for the [Oklahoma] bill was fairly uniform across the political spectrum. City dwellers were only slightly more in favor of it than those in rural areas,”  Krehbiel found.  People who keep dogs,  57% of the respondents,  “were somewhat more supportive of regulation,”  Krehbiel added.

Among the most commonly voiced reasons to oppose puppy mill regulation is the purported cost to taxpayers,  but Indiana has discovered that enforcing tax evasion laws against puppy mill operators is in itself effective on behalf of the dogs,  Maureen Hayden recently reported for the Anderson Herald Bulletin.  “Andrew Swain,  now head of the Indiana Attorney General’s Revenue Division, [several years ago] came up with the idea of using the tax evasion laws to shut down unlicensed commercial dog-breeding operations that put profits before animal welfare,”  Hayden wrote.  “He had discovered that the suspected puppy mill operators dealt in cash-and-carry transactions on which they they failed to pay income and sales taxes.”

“They’re scam artists,”  agreed Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

Three Indiana tax evasion cases filed in 2009 and 2010 brought the impoundment of more than 420 dogs.


Out of business

As debate over the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act reignited, dog breeder Jeff Fortin of Beaver Creek Kennels in Oberlin,  Kansas surrendered his USDA breeding permit.  Fortin in December 2010 killed 1,200 dogs due to a distemper outbreak.  “At one point,  Fortin had three pet stores in Colorado.  Only one remains open.  Fortin-linked stores in Greeley and Longmont were closed in 2008,”  recalled Jessica Fender of the Denver Post.   Fortin was charged with 34 counts of suspected cruelty for conditions found at the Longmont store.  “He denies responsibility for any mistreatment,” Fender wrote,  noting that “He was fined $8,795 in February 2006 for facility violations and was issued a warning letter last March for facility violations and denying access to inspectors.”

Fortin may have briefly surpassed David Yoder,  45,  of the former Black Diamond Acres kennel in Seneca County,  New York,  as the breeder most reviled by online activists.  Yoder in September 2010 surrendered his USDA permit after pleading guilty to gassing 74 dogs with car exhaust.  He was fined $505 for the gassings in Romulus Town Court,  reported Ernst Lamothe Jr. of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

“The USDA report indicates the Yoder kennel was riddled with canine brucellosis for over a year and in July the situation deteriorated to the point where Mr. Yoder made the decision to depopulate the kennel of all dogs as he was advised to do by the USDA and his veterinarian,” Seneca County Sheriff Jack S. Stenberg told Lamothe.


Biden’s breeder

But both Fortin and Yoder were upstaged when Philadelphia Inquirer staff writers Amy Worden and Kathleen Brady Shea disclosed on January 12,  2011 that the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement had on November 19,  2010 revoked the license of Linda Brown,  of Jolindy’s Shepherds in Spring City.

“A hearing on the revocation is set for May 24,”  wrote Worden and Brady. “Until then,  Brown can sell her remaining dogs, but may not breed or acquire new ones.  She had 70 when her kennel was last inspected.  If the revocation is finalized,  she may keep no more than 25.”

Brown,  65,  became briefly the most famous dog breeder in the U.S.,  after selling a dog to then newly elected U.S. vice president Joe Biden on December 6,  2008.  Brown has blamed her subsequent legal issues on the scrutiny that the Biden sale attracted. Only four days after Biden took the dog,  the Maryland Department of Agriculture cited Brown for allegedly failing to keep records and provide adequate proof of vaccinations.  Brown was subsequently acquitted of alleged dog law violations in January and March 209,  and in June 2010.

Brown had been in trouble before.  “According to minutes from the American Kennel Club’s April 2006 meeting,”  Shea of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported,   “the AKC’s management disciplinary committee suspended Brown from all AKC privileges for one year and imposed a $1,000 fine for submitting or caused to be submitted three litter registration applications that she knew,  should have known, or had a duty to know contained false certifications as to the sire and/or dam.”

On February 10,  2011 acting Pennsylvania attorney general Bill Ryan charged former Nacoma Kennel owner Costanzo “Gus” Cerino with not only allegedly misrepresenting AKC pedigrees,  but also allegedly falsely advertising that Nacoma Kennel is “PA Preferred, Registered Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,  Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement,”  the Bureau of Consumer Protection lawsuit stated.  The case charges that Cerino sold malnourished dogs who suffered from mange,  pneumonia,  parasites,   and respiratory infections, summarized Tim Darragh of the Allentown Morning Call.

—Merritt Clifton


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