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Prop B Editorial from Dr Cindy Sprigg, Cross Point
Prop B -- What's it Really Asking?
Proposition B is cited as the Puppy Mill Cruelty Act. The stated purpose of this Act is to prohibit the cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs in breeding facilities. The Humane Society of the United States filed Proposition B with the MO Secretary of State. Could the HSUS really be unaware that Missouri has in effect perhaps the most strict animal care legislation in our country today?
The Animal Care Facilities Act became Missouri law August 28, 1992. This Act governs animal care facilities of all types in Missouri. The ACFA is 23 pages of well thought-out regulations established by a 13-member committee representing of a variety of animal industries in Missouri. Canine breeding facilities fall under the governance of this law.
Proposition B admirably and appropriately addresses a number of areas of canine husbandry and care but is less comprehensive than the ACFA. Supporters of Proposition B argue that dogs could be housed in wire bottom kennels only inches longer than their body length for their entire lives. Such a life of confinement certainly constitutes cruelty and is strictly prohibited under the existing ACFA. The Animal Care Facilities Act not only addresses appropriate housing, but all areas of animal husbandry including diet, exercise, and socialization as well as medical care and humane euthanasia when necessary. In fact, the ACFA is more detailed, more thorough, and more specific in the care mandated than Proposition B.
Licensed, law-abiding breeding facilities would provide better care under the guidelines of the ACFA than under the sole guidelines of Proposition B. For example, Proposition B does not require human contact for dogs whereas the ACFA does. Proposition B requires only an annual veterinary examination, whereas ACFA requires regular veterinary supervision of the entire facility. Proposition B allows whelping twice in an 18-month period whereas ACFA allows a veterinarian to determine whelping frequency. Undoubtedly, compliance with ACFA totally prevents animal neglect and cruelty in canine breeding facilities.
So what does Proposition B change? One must understand that "B" applies only to breeding facilities and specifically to facilities having more than 10 breeding female dogs. Proposition B caps the total number of breeding animals, changes required space per dog, allows local law enforcement to address violations, and decreases the penalty for care violation. Let us consider each of these changes.
Proposition B would limit the total number of breeding animals to no more than 50. Current law regulates the manner of care of breeding animals without restricting the total number of breeding animals. In other words, no amount of care, space, or attention would allow any Missouri kennel to own more than 50 breeding animals.
Proposition B requires a larger total space per dog and unrestricted access to the outdoors. For example, under the governance of "B", two Yorkshire terriers housed together would require 72 square feet of kennel space two-thirds of which would be outside. Two Cocker Spaniels housed together would be required to have 120 square feet of space with two-thirds of that outside. Opponents of "B" argue weather extremes of Missouri and unrestricted access to the outdoors pose a threat to the well being of their dogs not to mention the danger of a female whelping outside on a cold night.
First time violations of Proposition B are a Class C misdemeanor whereas first time violations of the ACFA are a Class A misdemeanor. Local law enforcement would have authority to enforce Proposition B whereas Inspectors of the Missouri Department of Agriculture are responsible for enforcing the ACFA. This is perhaps the most compelling argument for and against Proposition B and is unfortunately the least addressed component of the Proposition. Will enforcement occur more quickly? Will a lesser penalty invite more citations? Does local law enforcement of rural Missouri have the manpower and expertise to enforce animal care?
Missouri is estimated to have twice the number of breeding facilities than any other State. Unlicensed facilities undoubtedly represent the majority of problems and abuse. Anyone who has puppy-shopped has most likely witnessed the best and the worst conditions of animal care. In fact, the consumer is the most integral part of correcting puppy mill cruelty. The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association and Missouri Department of Agriculture understand this fact. MVMA has published information on choosing a puppy and spotting substandard care. "Operation Bark Alert" gives consumers a direct hotline to report violations to the Mo Dept of Ag ( 573-751-4211, Barkalert.mo.gov). Since the launch of Operation Bark Alert, more than 3,700 dogs have been rescued, 164 substandard kennels were closed in 2009, and another 180 to date in 2010.
Elimination of puppy mill cruelty is a priority of the Missouri animal industry. Rest assured that legislation mandating proper, humane animal care is in place. The question that Proposition B asks is that of kennel design, limits on animal ownership, and burden of enforcement.