Fate of 'Puppy Mill' Legislation Must Wait a Year
The "puppy mill" bill failed to make it through the General Assembly.
The legislature adjourned last week, with the bill bottled up in the House Finance Committee.
"Everybody except the most callous, unfeeling person is in favor of animal welfare," says Gary Miller. "Nobody wants to see an animal being abused. If you do, there is something wrong with you."
Miller, a Jackson Springs bird hunter who operates a business in Southern Pines, counts himself among the animal lovers who oppose the "puppy mill" bill.
In an interview, Miller echoed the comments of both legislators representing Moore County. Both Sen. Harris Blake and Rep. Jamie Boles say that existing state and local laws are sufficient to address the abuse and neglect the bill was designed to prevent. They also argue that it would be costly and add another layer of red tape to the bureaucracy.
Blake and his staff were pelted with calls berating him for voting against the bill.
On Wednesday, he replied by e-mail to Maureen Burke-Horansky, found-er of Animal Advocates of Moore County, with an explanation for his vote against the bill.
"My office has received many e-mails concerning the Puppy Mill Bill," he wrote in the e-mail. "As you know, I did not support Senate Bill 460. I agree with your position that we should be kind to our pets.
"Growing up, my best friends were my dogs and horses. I have many photos that would indicate my love for animals. However, standing N.C. statutes are already in place that serve the public in areas of neglect and abuse. Added to that fact, we must recognize that this legislation will certainly increase the cost of state government.
"Looking at our current revenue shortfall, I am required to make very difficult decisions that weigh a myriad of pressing needs. Unfortunately, poor financial decisions of our past have now encumbered us as a state government to make choices that are difficult, painful, and unpopular."
Blake concluded his message by saying that although they differ on the legislation, "I want you to know that I understand the high value we all place upon pets, and I do thank you for sharing your views and concerns on this issue."
Animal Advocates and just about all animal welfare organizations in Moore County supported the bill. They secured some 1,200 signatures on petitions supporting the legislation.
Miller was in Raleigh last week to address the bill with legislators, and he was representing only himself, not any lobbying group. Sen. Don Davis, principal sponsor of the bill, was among the legislators he visited.
"Just because we opposed the bill doesn't mean we're not concerned about animal welfare," Miller says.
The bill, with a short title of "commercial dog breeder regulation," is officially titled "An act to eliminate abusive practices and provide for the humane care and treatment of dogs and puppies by establishing standards for their care at commercial breeding operations, excluding kennels or establishments operated for the purpose of boarding or training hunting, sporting, herding, show or working dogs."
That's a long title, and Miller says the bill's language is so broad that it would not apply to many hunters who keep large numbers of dogs. The bill identifies a commercial breeder as anyone who owns or maintains 15 or more intact female dogs of breeding age and 30 or more puppies primarily for the purpose of sale. An intact female dog is one that has not been spayed.
Under the bill, authority to enforce the law would be that of the state Board of Agriculture, which would be required to establish standards for the care of animals at commercial breeding operations.
The standards would cover such things as adequate daily exercise, adequate veterinary care, appropriate housing, and record keeping.
Miller estimates that it would cost the state $400,000 or more to implement the bill just at the state level, ranging from administration to inspections at the local level. Although the bill gives individuals designated by the agriculture commissioner the right of entry for inspection purposes, it says that "counties shall have the exclusive authority to investigate violations related to commercial breeding operations and to take appropriate enforcement action as authorized by law."
"That's a lot of money in a year when the budget is so tight that we're cutting teaching positions. It places the burden of enforcement on counties. It's just another un-funded mandate," Miller says.
Miller says that Moore County and most other counties already have authority to investigate and bring charges against people who abuse or neglect animals. The level at which such investigations are pursued varies according to the quality and intent of county officials, but that would not change under this bill.
One point of confusion is possible conflict with other state laws that place animal control issues in the hands of the public health department, not agriculture officials.
Violators of the law could be charged with a misdemeanor, which is about the same level of misdemeanor designated in existing laws.
Virginia Thornton, owner of Thornton Kennel in Wayne County, was charged earlier this year with 12 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. She was found guilty of all 12 counts in Wayne County District Court Thursday. Widespread publicity generated by this case prompted introduction of the legislation.
Davis, who introduced the "puppy mill" bill, serves a district that includes Wayne County. He is a freshman senator who lives in Greene County.
Miller says his concern is not based on any personal inconvenience, because he does not raise dogs for sale and does not own enough dogs to be covered. At present he owns five adult dogs and five puppies, all pointers used in hunting quail. Miller says he occasionally raises a litter of puppies, but only to supplement his hunting force.
Under the bill, he knows of no hunting kennel in the state that would raise a large enough number of puppies a year to be covered by the bill. Certainly no bird dog kennels would be affected, he says.
"You would be selling 30 puppies a year," he says of kennels covered by the bill.
Miller says hunters like to maintain a certain number of intact female dogs for a few years, long enough to determine how skillful they are at hunting. Then the decision is made as to whether they should be spayed. The most skillful hunting dogs are left intact in order to be bred with the most skillful among the males, just as race horses are bred from the best racing stock.
Although he is a member of the N.C. Sporting Dog Association and the N.C. Field Trial Association, Miller says he was not representing these or any other organizations associated with working dogs or pets. He was an active member of the committee that prepared a comprehensive revision of the county's animal control ordinance last year and remains a member of the Citizens Pet Responsibility Committee.
Wait Another Year
However, Miller says a misunderstanding about the difference between animal welfare and animal rights may be at the root of this issue. He says many opponents of the bill are unhappy about the role played by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Miller says HSUS supports goals similar to those of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which call for giving animals the same rights granted to people under the constitution. The term "rights," he explains, differs from the accepted meaning of the word "welfare," which represents humane treatment of pets and working animals.
Miller points to quite different work accomplished by animal welfare groups in Moore County and adds that the local Humane Society is not directly affiliated with HSUS.
He says that local animal groups work hard and devote much money to the rescue of lost, abandoned and abused animals and struggle to return lost pets to their owners and to find homes for homeless pets.
"This is what mainstream people want when they support these local groups, and that's the service they get," Miller says.
In the meantime, opponents of "puppy mills" must wait until another session of the legislature, which may, or may not, tackle the issue in its 2009 form.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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