For years, Missouri has been known as the “puppy mill” capital of the United States. It’s estimated that Missouri is home to more than 4,000 inhumane dog-breeding businesses. This is a distinction that Missouri’s new Agriculture Director Jon Hagler says he is working hard to change. But doing so might be more difficult than it seems.
Animal advocates say puppy mills flourish in the state for several reasons, including inconsistent enforcement of the rules and Missouri’s rural landscape, which makes it easier for the mill owners to avoid detection.
Since taking office in January, Hagler has tried to better enforce a 1992 program for protecting animals cared for by breeders. He’s named a new program coordinator, asked for a re-examination of old cases, ordered a review of internal procedures and stepped up inspections and the issuing of citations to violators. His new Operation Bark Alert allows people to report unlicensed breeders directly to him by e-mail.
But he admits it’s impossible for his agency to carry out the inspections it’s required to conduct each year.
"We cannot regulate 3,200 licensed breeders plus every animal rescue, shelter and dog pound and go after unlicensed breeders with 11 total inspectors," he said.
The Humane Society of the United States’ “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign says Missouri should stop licensing breeders until it has enough inspectors. State audits in 2001, 2004 and 2008 harshly criticized Missouri’s regulation of puppy breeders. Inspection reports show that rather than push for charges against breeders, which is within the state’s power, it encourages violators to reduce the number of dogs in mills.
Is the state doing everything it can to regulate puppy mills? If not, what should it be doing differently?