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January 12, 2010

Chance to Protect Missouri's Puppy Mill Dogs

In 1997, there were five states with legal cockfighting—a jeopardy situation for millions of birds subjected to fights in these states and an embarrassment for our nation, and especially for the states that allowed legal fights to the death between animals. At that point, I vowed, that The HSUS, in cooperation with local partners, would launch a campaign to eradicate cockfighting in every state. Our first stop was Missouri, where state lawmakers had for decades stymied legislation to end that barbaric practice.

We made good on our word the very next year—passing a ballot initiative there, and also one in Arizona that same year, in landslide votes. It took us about another decade to ban it in the other three states and to pass federal legislation to make it a federal felony to engage in cockfighting, to sell or possess fighting animals, or to sell or possess fighting implements. In a decade’s worth of activism, we ushered in a raft of new laws that would make it more challenging than ever for cockfighters to ply their hobby in America.

Dogs suffer in puppy mills
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

In 2010, Missouri is the important setting for another landmark ballot initiative campaign—this one to crack down on puppy mills. Missouri leads the nation in the number of mills breeding dogs for commercial sale—with a conservative estimate of 3,000 mills. We’ve tried in the state legislature to address the problem, and as with cockfighting, to no avail. So The HSUS, the Humane Society of Missouri, the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, and the ASPCA are part of a coalition called Missourians for the Protection of Dogs which is sponsoring a ballot initiative to address the puppy mill problem in the state. Today’s Missourian reports on the campaign.

Missouri’s puppy mills are cruel and inhumane. Dogs are confined in small wire cages for years on end, typically with no exercise or human attention, and are often exposed to extremes of heat and cold. As I write this blog, the current temperature in Independence, Mo. is 24 degrees. All dogs deserve humane treatment—and they should not be treated as a cash crop. The injury is compounded when you realize that these mills churn out dogs for the pet trade when our nation, and especially America’s shelters and rescue groups, are desperately battling to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in America. Our internal polling shows nearly 9 of 10 Missourians are ready to support the initiative.

The proposal does the following things:

  • requires large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles;
  • prohibits any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets; and
  • creates a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any violations

In working to pass a dozen state laws in 2008-09 to crack down on puppy mills, we saw reckless opposition to moderate reforms from the American Kennel Club, the National Animal Interest Alliance, and other groups linked to puppy mills. We’ll be sure to see their active involvement against this ballot measure in Missouri, where the stakes are higher.

This week, we are holding kick-off meetings in St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City, and Springfield to organize volunteer petitioners to gather the 130,000 signatures we’ll need by the end of April to qualify this ballot measure for the November ballot. The coalition’s website, www.missourifordogs.org, is up, and we need your volunteerism and financial support.

There’s never been a more important anti-puppy mill campaign—please help us push forward this campaign to turn around a decades-old problem.

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