Yesterday, I wrote about what puppy mills are, why they exist, and why they're a cruel business. Today, I'd like to discuss the lack of puppy mill regulation in the good state of Minnesota, and what we as citizens can do to right the problem.
Just yesterday, our neighbor, Wisconsin, passed into law the Wisconsin Commercial Dog Breeders Licensure Bill. The legislation sets up humane standards of care for commercial breeders and them to be licensed with the Departments of Agriculture and Trade and Consumer Protection. It also provides for routine inspections of breeders to insure that the standards are being met.
Now, let's discuss what Minnesota has done to regulate puppy mills.
License Required to Breed Commercially: No
Fees Required to Breed Commercially: No
Inspections for Commercial Breeders: No
Regulatory Agency for Commercial Breeders: No
Essentially, our beautiful, proudly progressive state, known for its animal husbandry and concern for the environment, is a haven for animal abusers. We allow people to cage animals (the product from which we invite into our homes), hundreds at a time, in deplorable conditions with no veterinary care. Often, dogs are left outside the majority of the year, well into the freezing winter months. The cruel practice of large-scale, inhumane breeding is a scar on the landscape and the reputation of Minnesota. If Wisconsin can pass laws to regulate this business, why can't we?
Let's take a look at what's been done to get puppy mill regulation passed in Minnesota. Animal Folks Minnesota is an excellent resource for a more in-depth look at this issue, and are the front-runners in getting this legislation introduced to the state congressmen and women. I am indebted to the site for much of the information in this post, and have provided links to Animal Folks MN accordingly.
First of all, a clarification. Minnesota does have laws that protect animals from cruelty and protect their general welfare. These laws do not, however, give the state the power to regulate and license dog breeders in Minnesota. This means that the state does not have the power to inspect facilities, set standards of care for the facilities, or impose penalties for violating standards of care. The Kathy Bauck case is an example of how laborious the task is to convict a commercial breeder in this state . Please read all the information provided by Animal Folks (click on Bauck's name above) to see how our current laws operate in the puppy mill setting.
Short version: Bauck, who had almost 1000 dogs on her property, was fined and penalized for animal cruelty and practicing veterinary medicine without a license several times over the last twenty years. This year, her operation was finally "shut down" (ie: ownership was signed over to her husband). Her sentence for this animal cruelty (three counts of animal torture, one count of cruelty), you ask? $500 in total fines, 80 hours community service, and random inspections by the Minnesota Humane Society if she chooses to still work with animals after her fine is paid. Outrageous. By enacting laws to regulate the industry, we wouldn't have to put up with this nonsense; all the Baucks in the state wouldn't be able to stand up to the standards of care, and many, many animals would be spared the cruelty of the puppy mill life.
If you'd like to take a look at Bauck's veterinary practice, please watch the following video from CAPS's investigation (WARNING: The video is graphic. Don't watch it if you have a sensitive stomach. I've pretty much desensitized myself to these types of videos while researching puppy mills, and this still made me sick). Scroll to the 2 minute 50 second mark:
How can we put an end to this cruelty? Let's look at the current legislation being considered by the state house of representatives and state senate: H.F. 253 (house), S.F. 7 (senate).
The bills did not pass in legislative year 2009, but Animal Folks MN, other animal rights groups, and caring individuals are trying to make legislators aware of its importance and get it passed in 2010, the legislative year of which starts in February.
The legislation provides protection for animals in six areas, bringing the state up to par with the 31 other states that regulate puppy mills. The areas are licensing, inspections, standards, enforcement, funding, and penalties.
The laws would require breeders (excluding small and hobby breeders, usually the reputable ones) to be licensed with the state of Minnesota. Right now, commercial breeders with more than three bitches (intact females) must be licensed with the USDA if they sell their puppies wholesale (ie: to pet stores or through a broker). However, if a breeder sells puppies through the newspaper, the internet, or out of a car in a parking lot, that breeder is not required to be licensed with the USDA, through a loophole provided in the Animal Welfare Act.
Once licensed, breeders would be subject to inspections by Minnesota regulators to ensure that a standard of care is met. Right now, Minnesota has "best management standards for care of dogs and cats" through the Commissioner of Agriculture. Although created with good intentions, these standards are useless unless they can be enforced, which at the moment is not possible due to lack of legislation. Training inspectors (a Minnesota Board of Animal Health agent, local animal control, or peace officer) to regulate the standards of care will hold breeders accountable to the standards that are already suggested.
Funding for the provisions in the bills will be collected from license and registration fees and given to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The bills also incorporate misdemeanor charges for specific violations of the standards provided by the bills.
Because there is legislation already on the table for 2010, our job as citizens is easy: We need to call or email our district legislators, inform them of the issue and why it's important, and urge them to vote for the bills.
If you're a western shorebird like me, there's good news! One of our representatives, Frank Hornstein, is a co-author of the house bill. Please email him and let him know that his support of the bill is appreciated. Our other representative, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and our state senator Scott Dibble, have not yet seen the light. Please call or email them and let them know how they can help end animal cruelty in Minnesota. If you're in another district, use this directory to find your representatives.
We have the power to turn Minnesota from a haven for animal abusers to a leader in animal welfare reform. With a little knowledge and an email to our representatives, we could put an end to much of the animal cruelty in this state and better the lives of the thousands of dogs that rely on us to advocate for their care and safety.