Missouri advocacy groups seek stiffer penalties for puppy mills

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:19 a.m. CST, Friday, February 12, 2010
Pam Pearn checks in a carrier of dogs brought in to the Central Missouri Humane Society by the Animal Health Division of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The animals were rescued from a dog hoarder, a pet lover who got out of hand, from north of Columbia.

COLUMBIA — A few months into volunteering as a foster parent for the Central Missouri Humane Society, Jessica Schlosser found herself taking home a frightened shih tzu puppy with a filthy, matted coat.

The puppy, Tully, had come from a puppy mill, an operation set up by dog breeders  who keep their animals in poor condition and over-breed them for profit.

Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act petition

Missouri law would be amended to:

  • Require large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles
  • Prohibit any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets
  • Create a misdemeanor crime of "puppy mill cruelty" for any violations

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Schlosser, 27, and her husband have taken in more than 40 animals — many from puppy mills. They sign on to care for the neglected dogs until they become adoptable, which "can take anywhere from three days to five months," she said.

Missouri has a reputation as the leading puppy mill state in the country, said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

An estimated 3,000 puppy mills operate in Missouri, he said. Oklahoma, the state with the second-most breeding mills, has an estimated 2,000.

Barbara Schmitz wants to change this.

Schmitz, Missouri's director of the Humane Society of the United States, is working with other animal organizations to gather 100,000 signatures to secure the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act a spot on the November 2010 general election ballot.

The act would set strict standards for large-scale dog breeders and make violating the standards a misdemeanor. Although puppy mills are illegal under current Missouri law, there is currently no criminal prosecution. Breeders in violation lose their license.

"Dogs raised in puppy mills typically live in confinement in wire cages," Pacelle said. "They're exposed to the elements, bred continuously and denied love and affection from people — all because someone wants to make a profit."

Puppy mills have a significant impact on the Central Missouri Humane Society at 616 Big Bear Blvd.

Two hundred dogs were brought  from puppy mills during 2009 alone, Executive Director Alan Allert said. This is one-third of the 600 puppy mill dogs housed at the shelter between 2005 and 2009.

“It’s a big issue in the entire state,” Allert said. The Humane Society in Columbia receives dogs from a large area because it is the only society in mid-Missouri, he said.

The shelter can handle 250 dogs but operates as an "open shelter" so no animal is rejected. When puppy mills are raided, often dozens of seized dogs arrive at once, straining the shelter's resources.

The recent increase in dogs taken to the Humane Society might result from last February's Operation Bark Alert online, Allert said. The Web site allows citizens to report inhumane breeders or puppy mills to be inspected.

On Dec. 15, complaints led animal control officers to an unlicensed kennel near Columbia where 10 toy dogs were being kept outdoors with inadequate protection from the cold.

Officer Debbie Christoff inspected the owner's property and found the animals sick, cold and living in cages with little insulation or support.

"If it were to rain, the water would just come pouring right in," Christoff said.

The owner was cited and told to relinquish the dogs. Christoff said the owner intends to fight the allegations.

Since Operation Bark Alert was initiated, formal complaints have led to 200 investigations. Those investigations resulted in crackdowns on 200 unlicensed breeders and the rescue of 2,900 dogs, said Jon Hagler, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

"We've accomplished more in one year than all the others combined," he said. "We're really proud of these results."

Although Schmitz applauds the outcome, she points to scores of puppies who still aren't given proper food, water, veterinary care and exercise. It is detrimental to these animals, she said.

“When these puppies are raised in dirty, factory-like conditions and then sold to unsuspecting families, everyone is harmed," she said.

As a foster parent, Schlosser said she has seen firsthand how puppy mill dogs behave. Their temperament and personality are noticeably different from most other dogs, something unsuspecting pet buyers may not realize at the time of purchase.

"They don't know they can trust people," she said. "They're timid and terrified because of a complete lack of socialization and human interaction."

Schlosser also said basic fostering steps, such as potty training, are complicated and frustrating.

"The vast majority of these animals are forced to live in their own waste, so it's extremely difficult for them to learn bladder control," she said.

Yet, many of these dogs overcome their past.

"The neat thing about dogs is the vast majority of them are ridiculously resilient," she said. "With a little bit of time and a lot of patience and coaxing, they realize that people are good."

The proposed Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act would require large-scale dog breeders to provide sufficient food, clean water, housing, veterinary care, exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles.

Pacelle said the act is not meant to attack all dog breeders, but rather to "fight puppy mills that essentially treat their dogs like breeding machines."

The act would also prohibit any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets. The most recent legislation on inhumane dog breeders, 1992's Animal Care Facilities Act, has no cap on the number of dogs a breeder can have.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture enforces the current law, and Hagler said it is intended to ensure dogs under the care of breeders “receive adequate shelter, health care and proper socialization."

To obtain a license, a dog breeder must submit an application and pay a fee of $100. Only breeders with three or more females are required to be licensed. 

An initial inspection is performed to ensure the breeding facility complies with standards, Hagler said. Currently, 12 animal health officers from the department perform these inspections.

The state is divided into 12 sections, one for each officer. Each licensed breeder is inspected once a year, sometimes more if a facility receives serious complaints from neighbors or other residents. 

A breeder who does not pass inspection has the license revoked.

Hagler said the number of current inspectors is insufficient; ideally, there should be 15 to 20, but funding is not available to add more.

Having a license doesn't necessarily mean a breeder's dogs are treated well, Schmitz said.

"Getting people licensed is important, but making sure that everyone who is licensed is treating their animals humanely is also extremely important," she said.

She also thinks the current is law vague and “completely inadequate.”

"It focuses on revoking licenses as a punishment, but with no other deterrence, this leaves an awful amount of room for animal cruelty," she said.

Schmitz and Pacelle believe enforcement would be more successful because any law enforcement officer would be able to apply the misdemeanor charge to offenders. Fines and jail time could result.

Christoff is skeptical about the success of stiffer regulations.

"Since a lot of people doing this breeding don't have a permit or are under the radar anyway, I'm not sure that passing more laws will help the problem," she said.

Hagler believes the key to cracking down on Missouri's puppy mills lies in programs like Operation Bark Alert that seek out unlicensed breeders.

"We have seen consistently in the majority of cases, whether it be neglect or abuse, that failure to meet standards comes from illegal breeding operations," he said.

Setting up in secluded locations seems to be a tactic puppy mill operators use to stay undetected, Schmitz said.

"It's easier to partake in this kind of activity in rural areas," she said. "Since people make a great deal of money this way, it seems as if a subculture has taken root out there."

Pacelle said the Humane Society has attempted to take three bills regarding puppy mills to Jefferson City — one in 2001, another in 2005 and a 2009 antecedent to the current proposal. 

"They were dead on arrival," he said.

Schmitz speculated that special interests have gotten in the way of the legislation.

"There are people who make a very large profit engaging in this kind of activity," she said. "When you go into a state capital and try to get an opposite message through, those special interests become very apparent."

The Humane Society has never failed to collect the required signatures and has submitted about 30 statewide ballot initiatives.

The shelter has also been successful in generating financial support. Last February, a flier urging adoption noted that "nearly 300 dogs and puppies came from puppy mills."

More than $15,000 in donations was generated from the flier, Allert said.

"The bottom line is that animals need to be cared for properly," Schmitz said. She will be giving a presentation from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Columbia Public Library's friends room at 100 W. Broadway to raise awareness of and discuss the state's puppy mill issue.

The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society of Missouri, the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Supporters hope to have 100,000 signatures by May 2. Once the petition is official and on the November ballot, they will begin campaigning for passage.

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jamie swoboda January 12, 2010 | 11:12 a.m.

There are several very important point about this article. First of all many people are fooled by the title "Humane Society of the United States.(HSUS)" This group is not affiliated with any of the local huumane societies. They use their name as a way to get donations from people that think they are helping animals. The truth is that the money is used for political lobbying to push through the groups anti-agriculture campaign that they have been promoting throughout the United States.

The reason that it is important not to support this bill is because it is supported by HSUS. This group is trying to "get their foot in the door" here in Missouri. Keep in mind that agriculture is the largest part of Missouri's economy and this group would ultimately like to end all livestock production.

Missouri already has some of the most strict laws written for dog breeder kennels. What is the most important is for the public to realize that when they want to purchase a dog from a dog breeder, they need to make sure that the breeder is licensed. If they are not licensed, then likely have not passed the licensing inspection. By not purchasing animals from unlicensed breeders, these breeders will go out of business.

(Report Comment)
sarah wilkinson January 12, 2010 | 12:04 p.m.

Law requires nonprofit organizations to file paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). So now that the deceptively named "Humane Society" of the United States (HSUS) has submitted its "Form 990" for 2008, the Center for Consumer Freedom thought it was time to take a close look.

More detail equals a clearer picture of exactly what HSUS is doing -- and what it's not doing -- with all its money. HSUS reported spending almost $20 million on "campaigns, legislation and litigation" -- enough to worry any livestock farmer or hunter looking to keep their chosen lifestyle alive.

The group collected over $86 million in contributions, and spent more than $24 million on fundraising, including $4 million on professional fundraisers. That is to say that 28 cents of every dollar contributed to HSUS goes back out the door to raise more money.

HSUS even paid a single 'lockbox' company more than $4.2 million to count and process its cash hauls. The bottom line is the same as it ever was: HSUS rakes in millions from unsuspecting Americans who may confuse the animal rights group with an unaffiliated local humane society.

The real trouble lies in where most HSUS money doesn't go: to pet shelters. HSUS's total grant allocation was less than $4.7 million. And of that, almost half went to a political campaign committee called Californians for Humane Farms, the main lobbying organization responsible for California's Proposition 2 ballot initiative.

For all the cute pictures of puppies and kitties on HSUS paraphernalia, you'd think it would operate a pet shelter, or at least give a substantial portion of its money to one. But HSUS has lobbying to do, a PETA-inspired agenda to push, meat eaters to stigmatize and livestock farmers to put out to pasture. Lobbying? Oh, yes. HSUS takes four full pages to detail its lobbying activities on the state and federal levels.

With all the politicking going on, the animals seem to get lost in the shuffle. We added up the totals, and HSUS gave only a little more than $450,000-that's just one half of one percent of its total budget-in grants to organizations providing hands-on care to dogs and cats. That's less than 11 percent of what it paid just to count its money.

Reprinted in part from The Center for Consumer Freedom

The HSUS is not the organization they want you to think they are.

(Report Comment)
skippy grey January 12, 2010 | 2:01 p.m.

The name of the game is: See how many animal breeders you can put on soup kitchen lines. The HSUS did it to dog breeders in 24 States. HSUS did it to chicken farmers, with the same "puppy mill" laws only for chickens. Dito for pig farmers dito for cow breeders. What this means to the public. Puppy prices so high you wont be able to get a puppy and food prices so high you won't be able to eat.

(Report Comment)
Sarah Barnett January 12, 2010 | 2:05 p.m.

The CCF is simply a front group for big industry groups, that don't like the fact that the HSUS is effective in stopping cruelty to animals, so instead they try to change the subject. They can't defend their cruel treatment of animals, so instead they try to change the subject.

These groups represent industries such as factory farming, fur, trophy hunting, puppy mills and others who want to pursue their own interests without the spotlight that The HSUS shines on their cruel conduct. You can see more on the CCF here:

The HSUS helps thousands of animals each year through our direct care facilities, which includes the largest horse sanctuary in the nation. As for our finances, we have given a 4 star rating by Charity Navigator for 4 years in a row, which only 7% of charities recieve. Anyone questioning what we do can go and read our CEO's blog, where you can see on a daily basis what we do to help animals and stop cruelty.

HSUS is working to pass laws in order to provide dogs in puppy mills basic humane care. Industry groups fight these laws – even those that are for very basic care like ensuring veterinary care for sick or injured dogs.

This is not legislation to stop dog breeding. Rather, it is to address the worst abuses to dogs in factory-style breeding operations.

(Report Comment)
Jessica Schlosser January 12, 2010 | 2:17 p.m.

Jamie, sadly, I've seen what the licensed facilities look like, and they're hardly much better than the unlicensed puppy mills. It's quite misleading to assume that if a breeder has a license they're a-okay and good to support, and those who don't have a license aren't okay. In fact, there are many (most?) good breeders who don't have the three breeding females required to attain a license.

People need to support reputable breeders who are breeding to maintain their breed and who are supported by their regional or national breed kennel club, or otherwise support local rescue groups. Supporting any pet store who sells dogs or commercial breeding facility (licensed or not) is a bad, bad practice.

(Report Comment)
Jessica Gross January 13, 2010 | 10:41 a.m.

Jamie Swoboda and Skippy Grey - are you two the world's biggest conspiracy theorists or what? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say you are proud members of the NRA and avid hunters as well. The problem with you and people like you is that you are ignorant to the severity of the issue at hand. Skippy, for your concern to be the fact that "puppy prices will skyrocket" should we enforce laws that keep these animals from being tortured proves how disconnected you are. It is time for Missourians (and Americans in general) to wake up and realize that we don’t need to continue to support breeders of any kind, especially those who treat their animals in this fowl manner. There are so many dogs who are in rescues and shelters that need good loving homes; why are any of us promoting the continued irresponsible breeding of more and more dogs? Jamie, your comment is laughable. Why would you try to deter people from supporting this bill? If you have a problem with the Humane Society, don’t sign the petition - it's as simple as that. Please don’t spew your under-educated ill-advised opinion and try to alter the opinion of those who would otherwise support this bill and save countless lives of these innocent animals. For you to say that Missouri has some of the strictest laws regarding breeder regulations and believe that they are being followed and enforced proves the ignorance you have on this topic. Pease keep in mind there is actual proof that Missouri has the largest number of these puppy mills, proof that you can find if you do your research outside of message boards where people like you do nothing but state their opinion as fact. It takes quite a calloused hearted individual to stand against a bill that could create better conditions for animals. I hope that those who visit this site and read this story will sign the petition for the The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.

(Report Comment)
Jennifer Holdren January 14, 2010 | 1:10 p.m.

There is nothing wrong with breeders.. My mom used to breed Mini collies and would only have about nine a year at most then sell them.. I am against the mills who have, well way to many of these dogs packed into small cages.. I have seen what some animals go through when they make it to the animal hospital IF they make it there.. I love animals and wish I could help them all.. Breeders used to be for dogs or cat who had papers only. Now days there even for mutts too.. I do agree there are way to many dogs and cats allowed to breed yes allowed.. If your dog is outside and chained up, if its a female make sure there's a fence around her. You don't have to have a male and Female animal if you do keep them away from each other.. I do think we put more blame on big puppy mills then the couple down the street who keep there dog in the back yard with a small amount of room to play with little or no contact they only go out to feed and water if they do that about once a day.. I've seen people picking up and taking these kittens and puppy's all happy with there new animal then later when this same animal only there an adult dog or cat dropping them off at a trailer park or woods as if this animal wanted this.. I've known people to get an animal from the pound there children bugging the animal so much they begin to bite then back they go with more problems then they first had at the pound.. If you want an animal you have to love them not just want one.. I knew a guy who was very poor the money he got was always used on his dogs and cats first they where health and loved. He ate worse then them.. He loved animals and they loved him.. His oldest dog is still alive today even though the man is not the dog is 20 years old and still kicking.. You only need one maybe two animals in your life at a time anymore is just over doing it.. I have two animals a female Yorkshire Terrier (rescued) and a Female cat (rescued) both these animals where not loved by there first owners the dog was chained up to a tree with only a foot of rope in a broken down dog house with no dog food only scrapes of human food she was number 20 for the owner and soon to be dead like the other one who only was a few feet away in the road.. The cat was just one of many litters of unwanted cats.. I do not allow the cat Miss Kitty to go outside and for the dog my little Lady she's loved and walked she has sweaters and coats and is spoiled everyday... I love animals and wish I could help them all.. But I can't I can only help two in my life at a time.. I just wish others would come to that understanding too..

(Report Comment)
jonan barkalow May 24, 2010 | 9:28 p.m.

maybe some of you who think that HSUS is out for your livestock should pull your head out of certain orifices and see what its really like to be around it all the time. i volunteer and assist in rescuing of certain dog breeds. most of the horendous abuses i have known personally have come out of missouri. breeders that tell rescues to come get some of their animals by a certain date( usually only a couple days from when they call them)dogs that they are done breeding with. these perticular dogs were five year old dachshunds . if they didn't come they would shoot them. and yes this was a true story and there are hundreds like rescue was told to be there on a monday by 10:30 and she got there at 10:45 and the dogs she was to rescue had already been shot.then there are dogs that come out of the mills just skin and bone,heartworm positive,rotten teeth that have to be all pulled out from infection.their back feet deformed from being on a grate all their life. a dog with its lower jaw rotted away(it was a poodle).i could go on all day .do you realise how many large breeding facilitys are in missouri?missouri is the largest puppymill supplier,oklahoma is next in line here in the u.s and yes they are licensed.that license didn'treally mean that much.but thank god there are more people out there with some common decency that don't want to put up with this type of cruelty any longer.people are becoming more aware of how these animals are bred and they are checking more often to see where that cute puppy came from. if most of you would quit being so paranoid that we want to stop all breading and we are all from PETA, or that we will stop all animals as livestock.i've heard those same couple lines from several people like a broken record. its almost like one person said it and everyone else just repeats it as fact. i wish at least some of you would do some actual research that isn't gossip and find out what things are really about.yes i have friends who have livestock and yes i heard the same garbage out of there mouths too. yes there is a lot of money that has to go into lobbying. there wouldn't be if there wasn't so much money being put into lobbying to keep it where its at. you have to fight the system that has money with money, its not cheap.

(Report Comment)

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