Puppy mill ballot measure worries farming supporters, animal rescuers

Sunday, October 17, 2010
Alice Wybert, director of Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary, enjoys a moment with Bandit. She said if Proposition B passes, the shelter could be inundated with dumped dogs. (Fred Lynch)

While few people would support the cruelty that allegedly exists in some of Missouri's large-scale dog breeding facilities, the statewide initiative on November's ballot designed to stop the abuse has created strong opposition.

Known as the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act," Proposition B would limit the number of breeding dogs to 50 per breeder, require yearly veterinary care, periods of rest between a dog's breeding cycles and improve living conditions. It would also create a misdemeanor crime for violating the requirements.

Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau president Dale Steffens has been vocal in his opposition to the measure. He said he is concerned the measure's largest backer, the Humane Society of the United States, is a radical organization that wants to eliminate livestock farming, hunting and fishing.

"Our biggest concern is that if this Proposition B passes in the state of Missouri, who's going to be on the agenda next? Who are they going after next? Are they going after cattle? Are they going after hogs?" he said.

While the Humane Society of the United States denies the charges, Larry Miller, president of the Southeast Missouri Cattlemen's Association, agrees with Steffens. He said Proposition B is just the group's first step in enacting its ultimate goal of ending animal agriculture.

"Down the road it's going to affect everyone in the United States. They want to abolish all livestock production in the United States. They want to do away with hunting, killing animals for food, fishing. What are we going to eat -- soybeans and corn?" Miller said.

Part of their concern comes from comments made by Humane Society of the United States president and CEO Wayne Pacelle in the early 1990s and early 2000s. Those quotes, made in a variety of publications and found on the website activistcash.com, credit Pacelle with stating the intent to stop all hunting through the ballot box, as well as having a desire to "challenge corporate agriculture."

Pacelle said those fears are unfounded. He said his comments have consistently been misconstrued and isolated by opponents and that there is a lot of misinformation being spread about his organization and Proposition B. The ballot initiative, he said, is about improving living conditions for dogs and not about anything else.

"The measure is what it is. It's just about dogs. There is no suggestion there is farm animal language in there. It's about dogs," he said.

Pacelle also said the democratic process in Missouri would prevent any organization from coming to the state to pass laws banning farming.

"Any future reform would have to go through the normal process of making new laws. In the legislature the farm bureau has great power. I don't think there is any risk on that front," he said.

Another proposition supporter Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said all of the fear that the initiative will end animal agriculture and hunting is taking attention off of the real intent -- improving standards for Missouri's dogs.

"We got a law passed in '92 to require these facilities be licensed. It did require minimum standards of care, what I would call survival standards," Baker said.

Current laws require dogs to be housed in cages at least six inches taller, wider and longer than the dog, Baker said. He said dogs are unable to turn around, and because they are not often out of their cages, they do not have exercise or socialization. More frequent access to veterinary care and mandatory rests between breeding cycles would also be required. Baker said the new standards would only affect large-scale breeders with 10 or more breeding females.

Dr. Connie Medling, staff veterinarian at the Humane Society of Missouri, has seen the conditions at puppy mills and supports the measure. She has been to a facility where there were 1,000 dogs, and only two or three people caring for them. She said the aftermath of operations like that creates a financial and emotional burden for rescuers.

Melanie Coy of Cape Girardeau has been involved with animal rescue operations since the mid-1980s. Despite the abuse and neglect she has seen in the animal business, she is opposed to Proposition B. She said there are already laws and regulations governing breeders.

"Our laws are extensive and detailed. Prop B is one page and too general. Abuse and greed need to be addressed, but Prop B is not the answer," she said.

Coy fears that if Proposition B passes, breeders will "dump" dogs to get within the 50-dog limit.

"To me, collateral damage is not acceptable," she said. "Dogs will be sent to shelters that can't handle the volume. Many, many dogs will have to be euthanized. 2010 will go down as the bloodiest year in the state of Missouri."

The director of Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill animal shelter in Jackson, also has concerns with the dumping of unwanted dogs but recognizes the need for reform.

"I get both sides," Alice Wybert said. "I know if puppy mills are closed, that's a good thing, but shelters are going to be inundated. It is absolutely terrifying."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture, which would be responsible for enforcing Proposition B, has also voiced concerns over the effects of the measure. The department has said it would not be able to meet the additional responsibilities without an increase in funding and that it would need an estimated seven additional personnel at more than $500,000 a year.

Attempts were made to contact more than 20 local dog breeders about Proposition B, but none was willing to go on the record, saying they feared being labeled as a puppy mill operator.

cbartholomew@semissourian.com

243-8600

Pertinent Address:

359 Cree Lane, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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