More than 100 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that "Men are respectable only as they respect." Politicians in Jefferson City would be wise to remember that advice and to respect the will of the people on Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.
Proposition B will finally curb the worst abuses at large-scale puppy mills and will help to turn around Missouri's reputation as the "puppy mill capital of America" by establishing common-sense standards for the care of dogs. In fact, the measure was only advanced to the ballot for a statewide vote because the legislature failed to act for nearly two decades.
Proposition B qualified for the ballot after more than 190,000 registered voters signed petitions, and the measure qualified in six of the nine congressional districts. Nearly 1 million Missouri voters affirmatively voted "yes" on Proposition B on Election Day, after hearing from both sides in a robust campaign over one of the most widely discussed ballot measures. A majority of voters favored Proposition B in a majority of state Senate, state House and federal congressional districts.
But while the absentee and provisional ballots were still being counted, lawmakers were already introducing bills to nullify the will of the voters and pull Missouri backward. Legislation has been pre-filed in an attempt to completely undo the wishes of the voters and repeal Proposition B, thus returning us to unchecked animal cruelty.
Our system is built on majority rule, and a majority of Missouri citizens — including majorities in most legislative districts — favored Proposition B. The voters acted precisely because the legislature has failed to stop puppy mill abuses. It would be undemocratic and wrong of lawmakers to usurp the power of the people and ignore their expressed will.
Proposition B was a simple measure, dealing only with setting standards for commercial dog breeding, and has no connection whatsoever to Missouri's important agriculture and livestock economy. The opponents' campaign was based entirely on falsehoods and misrepresentations in an attempt to confuse voters. The truth is, Proposition B dealt only with dogs. It does not deal with cattle, chickens or pigs.
Some people who voted against the measure were wrongly told that existing regulations on dog breeding are adequate and that a license to be a Missouri commercial breeder ensures humane care of the dogs. Neither is accurate. Under pre-Proposition B rules, a dog could be confined in a cage just 6 inches longer than its body and never let out; it need not ever see a veterinarian; and it could be kept outside in that wire cage in the middle of winter, exposed to freezing temperatures. All of that was legal under existing rules, and that's why we needed Proposition B.
The new regulations — requiring adequate and clean food and water, exercise, properly sized and sanitary cages, veterinary care, protection from extreme heat and cold, and adequate time between breeding cycles — are very reasonable, as most Missourians, including responsible breeders, know. Proposition B also provides a one-year phase-in so breeders have plenty of time to comply with these new standards.
These new standards are vital in ensuring basic welfare of the breeding dogs and addressing the problems that have persisted in Missouri for the last few decades. As a result of Proposition B, Missouri finally will shed its reputation as the puppy mill capital of the country and instead become a leader in basic, humane care of breeding dogs.
Legislators should respect the will of the people and let the election results on Proposition B stand. If they tell Missouri citizens that their votes don't matter, why should voters respect the people who are elected to represent them in the Capitol? These are the tactics that magnify voter cynicism and the distrust of government that have become the norm in our society and would surely be remembered next election season.
Barbara Schmitz is the campaign director of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs and lives in St. Louis.