Petition filed to increase dog breeding restrictions in Missouri

Sunday, May 2, 2010 | 4:38 p.m. CDT; updated 9:26 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 3, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians seeking new restrictions on the state's dog breeders delivered tens of thousands of signatures in more than two dozen boxes to get their proposal before voters.

The group was among several that are trying to beat the clock and deliver their initiative petitions before the 5 p.m. Sunday deadline. Two already have been filed — on dog breeding and earnings taxes in the state's major cities — and several more could be submitted.

Supporters of the dog breeding restrictions took photographs and posed with several dogs outside the secretary of state's office building near the state Capitol. Boxes were wheeled in on carts and given to state election officials.

Barbara Schmitz, the campaign manager of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, said she was "overjoyed." She said the measure is designed to strengthen the state's laws to ensure dogs are treated humanely. It would be called "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act."

"We're tired of being known as the puppy mill capital of the country," Schmitz said. "We're tired of having dogs being treated in such a substandard and cruel way."

Missouri has been estimated to have more than 4,000 shoddy and inhumane high-volume breeders, and state officials been cracking down on them.

Under the ballot measure, dog-breeders could only have 50 breeding dogs and would be required to feed animals daily, provide annual veterinary care and not breed animals more than twice every 18 months. Breeders also would have to follow rules for the dogs' living space and house animals indoors with unfettered access to an outdoor exercise yard.

It would apply to people with at least 10 female dogs for breeding. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.

Dog breeders and many Missouri farming groups have sharply criticized that initiative petition and warned it could be a harbinger for other efforts to restrict livestock production in the state.

Karen Strange, the president for the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, said Sunday that the changes would affect licensed dog breeders who already follow the rules and make it more expensive for people buying pet dogs. Strange said many of its provisions already are followed and that she feared the ballot measure's supporters had misled some who signed the petition.

"They are targeting the legal, licensed professional breeders that do it right," Strange said. "I don't think it's fair to limit a legal industry."

Schmitz denied that the group was targeting agriculture. She estimated that about 190,000 signatures had been submitted for the proposed dog-breeding law.

However, a lawsuit over the description of the petition that would appear on the ballot has not yet been resolved.

To get an initiative petition on the ballot to change the state constitution, organizers need signatures from more than 8 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 governor's election from six of Missouri's nine congressional districts. For petitions changing state law, it takes more than 5 percent of the total votes from the 2008 governor's election in six congressional districts.

That amounts to between 146,907 and 159,359 for constitutional amendments and 91,818 to 99,600 for statutory changes. Election officials have until Aug. 3 to determine whether the initiative petitions qualify for the ballot.

Another group — supporting an effort to call a referendum on earnings taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City — said it submitted more than 210,000 signatures last week. That measure would have all Missouri voters decide whether those living in St. Louis and Kansas City should cast ballots on the cities' earnings taxes every five years during municipal elections. If local voters decide to scrap their earnings tax, it would be phased out over a decade.

Supporters of the earning tax ballot measure say they want voters to decide whether to keep the tax. But critics warned that eliminating those cities' earning taxes could pose significant budget trouble and gut vital services such as police and fire protection.


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