Darron Cummings/AP
"Petula", a rescued Pug, walks around during a rally on the front steps of the Statehouse
in Indianapolis.

Bills to Regulate Puppy Mills Face Backlash from Unexpected Sources

April 24, 2009 06:00 PM
by Anne Szustek
The Indiana Department of Agriculture and the NRA have come out against Humane Society-backed legislation to regulate dog breeding in two states.

Detractors of Anti-Puppy Mill Bills Cite Concerns about Farming, Hunting

The Humane Society is taking heat for new bills in the Indiana and North Carolina State legislatures to curb puppy mills, facilities where dogs are bred on large farms in substandard conditions.

Officials at the Indiana Department of Agriculture are arguing that the Humane Society has plans to use Indiana’s House Bill 1468 to do more than simply regulate dog breeders. The bill also includes tighter restrictions against animal cruelty, and agricultural industry representatives fear that if the bill is passed, it will subsequently lead to more stringent regulations on livestock breeding. Elisha Modisett, the state legislative director for the Department of Agriculture, has handed out literature to state representatives about past Humane Society campaigns against hunting and putting pregnant pigs in crates. One of the bill’s leading critics, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, was quoted as saying by The Indianapolis Star that the bill “is a threat to animal agriculture, and I hope this doesn’t become law.”

Indiana state Humane Society Director Anne Sterling called such allegations “absolutely absurd.” Acknowledging that the 11 million-member organization has supported such past measures as ending the use of veal crates and chicken battery cages, she stressed that public balloting approved those initiatives.
Concerns over the Humane Society’s stance against hunting have rallied the National Rifle Association against a similar bill before the North Carolina legislature. According to North Carolina paper The News & Observer, the gun-lobbying organization has sent out a mass e-mail to its backers in the state, arguing that the anti-puppy mill bill is “part of the same old lie” by the Humane Society. The NRA e-mail accuses the Human Society of attempting to prohibit all recreational hunting in the United States, and that if the legislation becomes law, it will be used to go after people who train hunting dogs.

Background: The fight against puppy mills and irresponsible dog breeding

In July 2008, the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee bought Pet Haven, the state’s largest commercial breeder and an alleged puppy mill, with the intention of shutting it down. A national Humane Society representative noted that overcrowded breeding facilities exist in every state, producing as many as 4 million puppies a year. Speaking on NPR, the representative said she has seen far worse conditions than those at Puppy Haven. After purchasing Pet Haven, the Wisconsin Humane Society, offered the 1,200 dogs up to good homes, with the organization’s standard adoption fees applying. Many would-be dog adopters responded.

Families looking for a furry friend may be inspired by Obama family’s latest addition, Bo, a Portuguese water dog puppy gifted from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. But reputable breeders fear that a sudden spike in the “Portie’s” popularity may also encourage unscrupulous folk to over-breed the dogs. There are only some 20,000 Portuguese water dogs in the country right now, and the genetic pool is quite small.

Plus, most breeders can recall the damage done when a particular dog breed suddenly becomes a fad. For example, both the original and the remake of Disney film “101 Dalmatians” encouraged the growth of puppy mills to meet the demand for Dalmatians. Many new pet owners then found that they were not equipped to handle the animal’s characteristic high energy level and nervous temperament, and Dalmatians began showing up at shelters.

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