Missouri Puppy Mills & Prop B

Happy puppies, from ASPCA websiteOn November 2, 2010, Americans voted in mid-term elections.  One of the things voted on in Missouri was Proposition B, proposed legislation that would regulate dog-breeding kennels. It was passed by a small margin of mainly urban votes [update below].  The ASPCA, Humane Society and state- and community-level animal rescue groups supported it.

The American Kennel Club, at the national and state level, opposed it, as did groups representing puppy mill operators in the state.  It was also opposed by a Tea Party-affiliated group called Alliance for Truth, who argued that it was an invasion of individual rights by “big government”.  They went further, saying it would take away Americans’ right to own pets and farm animals.

Puppy mill 01-USA-PETA-wikipedia
Wire cage floor – less cleaning needed, paw damage for dogs

Minimum standards for food, water, shelter and exercise, rest between breeding cycles and a limit of 50 breeding dogs in a kennel, enforceable by state Department of Agriculture, is all that is included in Prop B.  The legislation does not apply to breeders with less than 10 dogs.

It can not, unfortunately, completely close down large-scale breeding operations of dogs for sale.  However, it is aimed at puppy mills, commercial operations where breeding is done for profit alone.  But it would apply to all dog-breeders, including show dog kennels.

I read the AKC website to see why they were opposed to Prop B.  I understand their fear that legitimate breeders will be penalized by legislation aimed at puppy mills.  That might happen; kennels might be inspected more often and some might have their size of operation reduced.  It would be good for the dogs, and other breeders, though if “reputable” breeders who do not maintain basic levels of care were made to provide adequate conditions for their animals.  It would be unfortunate for the conscientious breeders who work out of love for their dogs and the breed and take good care of both.

There is validity in the AKC’s fear that increased government standards and inspection may cause greater expense and paperwork for breeders who are already working on a slim profit margin.  Every small business owner knows that a government inspector coming in the door is never good news for your operating costs.

However, every small business owner knows that someone setting up shop doing what you do and undercutting your prices is also not good for your business.  Maybe they figure they’ll take a loss in the short term in order to drive you out of business, maybe they’re using cheaper labour, taking short-cuts, making a shoddier product but selling it to people who care primarily about the cheaper price.  Either way, it’s bad news for you.  It seems to me that breeding dogs for sale isn’t that much different.

2004 Westminster dog show, junior category winners
2004 Westminster Junior Showmanship winners

Reputable breeders show their dogs in competition in order to raise the prestige of their dogs and their kennel.  That takes time and money.  They breed discriminately, checking for genetic problems and researching blood lines in order to raise the quality of their dogs and the breed as a whole.  Time and money.

Good breeders do not breed females in their first heat or every heat thereafter.  That means “downtime” where the dogs cost the same in food and care, but aren’t generating money in pups.  Antenatal and postnatal care – special foods, vet costs, shots.  Lots of money.  Finding the right home for the pups, checking prospective buyers.  Time.  Taking back the pup or grown dog if things don’t work out.  Time and money.  (And reputable breeders make it a condition of purchase that the dog will be returned if the new owner cannot keep it.)  Making sure registration with the CKC or AKC is done properly and that “pet stock” pups are not used for breeding.  Time, money.

Now, say the breeder is you.  You sell your pups for $1000 and that’s not making a huge profit.  Down the road, a new kennel opens, advertising the same kind of pups as yours and charging $800 each.  People say, “Why should I pay you $200 more?”  Meanwhile, you’ve seen the cages stacked on top of each other with dogs unable to turn around in them.  You’ve seen there is no exercise yard.  You see an endless supply of puppies going out the door.  Immediate sales, no contracts signed, no assessment of buyers, no return of dogs.  You’ve got yourself a puppy mill beside you.  How are you going to compete?

This is why, in the end, I couldn’t understand the opposition of reputable breeders to Prop B.  At the very least, it might remove ‘fly-by-night’ competitors, whether they be puppy mills or accredited breeders who cut too many corners.

Missouri puppy mill rescue ASPCA
“The dogs were voluntarily relinquished by an owner who could no longer afford to feed them.” ASPCA

Puppy mills are a major industry in Missouri.  40% of all pet store dogs sold in the US come from Missouri.  Prop B opponents talked about the economy relying on puppy mills and therefore anything that hurt them would hurt the state.  That may be the case.  In the pre-Civil War American South, it was argued that slavery was needed in order to keep the cotton-based economy alive.  It was true then, and may be true in Missouri.  But that’s not a reason to keep an inhumane and evil socio-economic system alive.  The South survived, Missouri will too.

2016: How’s the “Missouri Solution” doing?

I wrote this post on Nov. 16, 2010 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog. In 2011 the governor repealed Prop B and instead brought in a “Missouri Solution,” which removed most of the teeth of the original legislation. The time limit for puppy mill operators to comply with the changes was extended from one year to five, so to 2016. I could find very little about whether there has been any improvement in conditions in Missouri puppy mills now. For more, see Wikipedia’s Puppy Mill (Legislative Response: US) and for details on specific puppy mills, state by state, see Humane Society US “Horrible Hundred” of 2016. There are eleven pages of entries for Missouri.

It’s another election year; the five years for implementation of the Missouri solution have passed. So how’s it worked out for the dogs?

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