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Columbia Missourian

Vets and breeders discuss impact of Prop B on dogs' health

By Jessica Stephens
October 25, 2010 | 9:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Marty Murray never knows the next time an inspector will visit her kennel. She also doesn't know which organization will send the inspector.

Murray, the owner of SacRiver Kennel in Ash Grove, and a licensed breeder with *the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Greene County, said she makes sure her facilities meet American Kennel Club and Greene County standards.

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Murray said that after all the time and money she put into building her facilities and getting them approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture eight years ago, she doesn't want to risk losing her license. But if voters pass Proposition B, a ballot initiative that strengthens regulations on breeding facilities that own 10 or more sexually intact dogs, on Nov. 2, Murray said she'll have to make some expensive changes.

The USDA provides regulations for licensed breeding facilities in the Animal Welfare Act. Professional breeders in Missouri can choose to be licensed with the USDA, the Missouri Department of Agriculture or both. But, regulations for animal enclosures are identical for breeders licensed with the federal and state governments.

Among the biggest differences between Proposition B standards and current regulations are stricter rules on flooring, access to the indoors and outdoors, breaks between breeding cycles, increased space requirements and a limit on the number of sexually intact dogs a breeder may own.

Some veterinarians have commented that the regulations suggested in Proposition B are good for some dogs, but not all of them. Likewise, some licensed breeders, such as Murray, prefer USDA standards because they believe current standards are better for their dogs' health.

Here, veterinarians and licensed breeders weigh in on what standards they think are best and why.

Flooring of indoor enclosures:

What the Animal Welfare Act says: Indoor enclosures do not have to have a solid floor, but mesh or slatted flooring must be constructed so the dogs' feet do not pass through any openings. Breeding facilities may have stacked cages. 

What Proposition B says: Indoor enclosures must have solid flooring, and these enclosures may not be stacked above or below the enclosure of another animal.

What veterinarians say: The impact that flooring has on a dog's joints depends tremendously on the weight and age of the particular dog, said Richard Meadows, a veterinarian who teaches at MU's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Mesh flooring could create pressure points in large dogs, he said.

The type of wire used in mesh enclosures also affects the dogs' health, Meadows said.  He said inadequate wiring can cause pressure sores, and dogs can get their feet caught in it, which could lead to ripped skin or broken bones.

But Meadows said that the right kind of mesh flooring, such as wiring with a plastic coating, can be better for a dog's health than solid floors. Mesh flooring drains the dogs' waste, he said, pointing out that dogs left to stand in their own urine or feces can develop infections and foot problems.

Kenneth Vroman, a veterinarian at Howard County Veterinary Services in Fayette, said the flooring issue doesn't have to be either-or. He said solid flooring can be more comfortable for dogs, but providing some slotted flooring allows a dog to relieve itself without having to remain in an enclosure with its own waste.

Veterinarian Scott Fray of Cooper County Animal Hospital in Boonville said that flooring is not a one-size-fits-all issue. There is no simple answer, he said, because different dogs have different needs.

What breeders say: Murray said she uses tenderfoot wiring, which has small holes and Teflon coating, in her enclosures. She said she installed the flooring after the USDA advised kennel owners that this wiring is the healthiest for dogs. 

Vivian Wilson, co-owner of Flat Creek Kennel in Aurora, said she has solid flooring for some of her dogs but she prefers to keep puppies and their mothers on mesh flooring.

"I honestly think the puppies do much better up on the wire," Wilson said, pointing out that dogs kept on mesh flooring tend to be cleaner because they're not sitting in waste and less likely to be exposed to fleas, worms or diseases. "If they're on the dirt, they'll just pick up everything."

Access to indoor and outdoor enclosures:

What the Animal Welfare Act says: Dogs must have a sanitary, ventilated facility that protects them from extreme weather. Dogs kept in an outdoor enclosure must be protected from the elements and must have access to a shelter.

What Proposition B says: Dogs must have "constant and unfettered access" to both an indoor and outdoor enclosure. Both enclosures must protect dogs from the elements.

What veterinarians say: Meadows called Proposition B's requirement "unnecessarily prescriptive." He said it's good, but not necessary, for dogs to have access to the outdoors.

Vroman said the particular breed also factors into how much exercise and outdoor time a dog needs. He said smaller breeds don't need as much exercise as larger ones and that some breeds are in fact at a higher risk of becoming too hot or too cold if they are kept outside for too long.

Meadows agreed that dogs run the risk of overexposure to the elements when they have unrestricted access to the outdoors. He said dogs don't always instinctively think to come inside when conditions are too hot or too cold.

"Not all dogs are that bright," Meadows said.

Fray said he does not have a problem with dogs' having regular outdoor access, but that he is concerned with owners' not being allowed to shut dogs inside in certain situations, such as when weather is inclement or when a dog that has recently given birth needs to be indoors to care for her puppies.

What breeders say: Murray and Wilson both said their adult dogs have doors that allow them to go inside and outside at will.

However, Murray also has a nursery where she keeps newborn puppies for six to eight weeks. Mother dogs in this nursery do not have the same access to the outdoors as other dogs because Murray wants them to be available to their puppies.

Limits on breeding cycles:

What the Animal Welfare Act says: Neither the Animal Welfare Act nor state laws limit the number of litters a female dog can have over a period of time.

What Proposition B says: Dogs may not be bred to produce more than two litters within an 18-month period.

What veterinarians say: Fray said that it's hard to tell whether making dogs skip a cycle is best because individual dogs have varying physical needs.

Meadows said that dogs have a six-month breeding cycle. If they do not conceive, intact female dogs go through a "false pregnancy," meaning their bodies go through the same hormonal changes regardless of whether they are pregnant. He said that allowing a dog to skip a breeding cycle is not a bad idea, but it is not necessary for its health.

Breeding a dog every cycle is hard on her body, Fray said, but if a dog goes through too many false pregnancies, she can develop a uterine infection called pyometra.

"It's just not that clear-cut," he said.

What breeders say: Murray said she allows her dogs to take breaks between breeding cycles.

"I don't have to have a law to tell me that's not what you should be doing," she said. 

Wilson said her female dogs self-regulate and know to skip a cycle if they need to.

Likewise, Cindy Elliott, a hobby breeder who raises Yorkies in Bosworth, said her female dogs know when they are ready to breed, and they don't allow male dogs near them when they're ready to skip a breeding cycle.

Spacing requirements for enclosures:

What the Animal Welfare Act says: Dogs must have enough space to turn, stand, sit, lie and walk in a comfortable, normal manner in indoor enclosures. Outdoor enclosures must protect dogs from the elements and provide them with shelter.

What Proposition B says: Indoor enclosures must provide 12 square feet for dogs up to 25 inches long, 20 square feet for dogs between 25 and 35 inches long and 30 square feet for dogs 35 inches or longer. Outdoor enclosures must protect dogs from the elements and provide at least twice the square footage required of indoor enclosures.

What veterinarians say: Fray said that he doesn't have problems with the space requirements in either law but that he believes current regulations are reasonable. 

Vroman agreed that dogs don't need more space than what current laws call for in order for them to get proper exercise.

What breeders say: Increasing the amount of space required for each dog in a breeding facility requires breeders to regulate the temperature within a larger space.

"It would be impossible to meet that standard and have a building that we can heat and cool," Wilson said of the proposed spacing requirements. "The heating and cooling bills will be astronomical."

Limit on number of dogs:

What the Animal Welfare Act says: Neither the animal welfare act nor state laws place a limit on the number of dogs one person or facility may own.

What Proposition B says: Breeding facilities may not have more than 50 sexually intact dogs older than six months.

What veterinarians say: Vroman said having a large number of dogs that can be bred does not necessarily mean that a professional licensed breeder is not taking proper care of them.

"There's no reason to think that if you can properly take care of 50, it's not possible to take care of 100," Vroman said.

Fray said that common sense dictates that breeders with the largest number of dogs are also going to have the hardest time taking care of them. But like Vroman, Fray said that it is possible to responsibly take care of a large number of dogs.

"There's nothing inherently impossible about taking care of 51 dogs," Fray said.

What breeders say: Murray said the number of sexually intact dogs she owns varies. She said sometimes she comes close to the limit because she might keep specific puppies to breed, in which case she waits until they are at least two years old. Murray said she also might keep dogs that are retired from breeding.

Murray also said she believes the number of dogs a breeder owns doesn't matter as much as whether the dogs are being properly cared for.

"You can have 10 dogs and not be taking care of them," she said.