ST. LOUIS — Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler said Thursday he will review a practice that allow dogs surrendered by unfit breeders to be auctioned rather than go to animal shelters.
The state says that since January, it has transferred more than 1,300 abused and neglected dogs from unlicensed breeders to shelters such as the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis. Hagler and Gov. Jay Nixon toured that shelter Thursday.
But the state also arranges for dogs from unsuitable breeders to be sold at auction to other breeders. Critics question the practice if poor facility conditions have compromised the animals' health. They also argue bad breeders shouldn't profit from the sale of their confiscated or surrendered dogs.
In February, the state negotiated a settlement with a Verona breeder who didn't meet state standards. She was instructed to close her kennel, and the state arranged for Southwest Auction Service in Wheaton to sell her dogs and give her the proceeds, minus state licensing fees.
Hagler, who has been in office just over two months, said that and other policies are under review. He said the dispersal of dogs from unfit breeders is being decided on a case-by-case basis, and he would rather standardize practices.
Hagler and Nixon were in St. Louis to promote Operation Bark Alert, which allows people to report unlicensed breeders directly to Hagler by e-mail. So far, he has received 100 reports of suspicious breeders that include licensed facilities, he said.
Hagler and Nixon said crackdowns on substandard breeders who still have a license could follow.
They also toured the Humane Society of Missouri's adoption center, which is housing 200-plus dogs the state seized in February from a breeder in Seneca.
Since taking office in January, the state's agriculture chief has taken steps to better enforce a 1992 program for protecting animals cared for by breeders.
The state has come under fire for being the puppy mill capital of America. Missouri is trying to shed its reputation, and Hagler has pledged to do more to crack down on bad breeders.
But the reality of tight state resources — and licensing fees far below what other states charge — limit what Hagler's overwhelmed inspectors can do. His agency, criticized for failing to do annual inspections as required by law, says the growth of breeders is outpacing that of its staff.
Hagler has said the licensing fees cover only one-third of puppy breeder inspection costs, and Nixon, citing the recession, said Thursday he won't ask legislators to raise them. A base fee of $100, plus $1 for each animal sold, is capped at $500.
Hagler and Nixon said they are considering putting a list of licensed breeding facilities online as an aid to consumers.