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Columbia Missourian

Prop B elicits strong emotions as vote nears

By Kyle Deas
October 7, 2010 | 5:35 p.m. CDT
Bill Sutton protests Proposition B outside Cafe Berlin, where CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, spoke on September 13. Sutton said he believes Proposition B will be the end of domesticated animals in Missouri, including beef, pork and chicken.

JEFFERSON CITY – Jon Kimes breeds dogs, and he's worried about Proposition B.

"I'm not as polarized as everyone else," Kimes said. "I appreciate the efforts put forth by the animal welfare people. But I think that this bill was put together by people who aren't very knowledgeable about keeping and breeding dogs and who aren't very knowledgeable about what the outcome of this legislation could be."

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Kimes owns the Pluperfect Kennel in Kansas City. He breeds mostly Welsh corgis and calls himself an "avocational" breeder: he breeds dogs primarily for show, rather than for sale. The number of dogs Kimes keeps fluctuates from a half-dozen to double that number, or more.

"Because this law does a really terrible job of defining a puppy mill, it has the potential to impact every breeder," Kimes said. "And what frightens me a little bit is you can take an issue like this, where you have to have some in-depth knowledge, and you can paint it at an emotional level to appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry who knows nothing about breeding dogs and word it in a way that people won't vote against it."

Supporters of the proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot say Missouri has a serious problem with abusive dog breeders that can only be addressed through legislation. They point to the dozens of raids conducted by the Missouri Department of Agriculture every year such as one on Sept. 21 in which more than 100 dogs were removed from an unlicensed breeding facility in Camden County after the owner ran out of money for food.

Another raid in February 2009 found nearly 200 dogs starving, sitting in their own feces and surrounded by the skeletons and decomposing bodies of other dogs, most of which were stuffed into dog food bags. The owner of the Newton County facility had previously been raided and charged with animal cruelty but had not been convicted.

According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, similar raids have removed more than 3,700 dogs from substandard conditions since early 2009. 

"It's an agricultural model applied to dog production," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said. "These are factory farms for dogs."

Proposition B would prohibit breeders from keeping more than 50 adult dogs for breeding. It would also impose stricter shelter and care requirements for those dogs. Among other things, it would require that all dogs be given constant access to the outdoors, be raised on solid — as opposed to wire — floors, have climate-controlled indoor kennels and be bred only twice every 18 months.

As of September, there were 1,449 licensed breeders in Missouri. The average breeder keeps 44 female dogs for breeding.

Barbara Schmitz, campaign manager of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, helped craft the initiative and gather signatures to put it on the ballot. She said the initiative was written to be as specific as possible.

"The laws are so vague right now, and there are many loopholes," Schmitz said. "What we're trying to do is to ensure not just that the standards are clear but that they are enforceable. If we have the provisions set up in a different way, say with regard to exercise, it's very easy for (breeders) to say, 'Oh, I was going to walk them in an hour, or I walked them two hours ago.'"

The proposition was sponsored by Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, a coalition of various animal rights groups that includes the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of Missouri and the Humane Society of the United States.

The group began circulating signature petitions in early 2010 and submitted those signatures to the state on May 2. On Aug. 3, the initiative was approved by the secretary of state, and 10 days later it overcame a court challenge to stay on the ballot. The case hinged on the usage of "puppy mill" in the initiative's language, but Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem upheld use of the phrase.

The most active opposition has come from breeders. The Alliance for Truth, an organization formed to fight the initiative, has been endorsed by 18 elected officials in Missouri along with more than 100 breeders and veterinarians.

Hubert Lavy, 68, runs Tenderheart Kennels with his wife, Sharon, on their farm in Silex. The Vietnam War veteran says the law would cost him about $50,000 in renovation costs.

Todd Mason, who owns Eagle Valley Kennel in Wentworth, echoed Lavy's concerns.

"Two of our buildings will be obsolete, we won't even be able to raise in them anymore," Mason said.

Both Mason and Lavy said that their kennels house more than 100 dogs.

Other criticisms of the initiative have come from some agricultural organizations that claim the initiative is the first step in a larger attempt by animal rights advocates to impose more legislation on farming and livestock breeding.

In a statement, a representative for the Missouri Farm Family Agriculture Alliance wrote that the Humane Society of the United States is "anti-animal agriculture and anti-farmer. This proposal ... is dangerous for Missouri's agribusiness industry."

Similar statements have been issued by the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.

Proposition B itself applies only to dogs, and the Humane Society of the United States denies that it has plans to advance additional legislation.