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April 19, 2011

Missouri Deal Would Leave Dogs Out in the Cold

With some fanfare, a “compromise” in Missouri was announced between some traditional political adversaries on Prop B yesterday. Since the November election, the coalition of animal protection organizations that pushed for the passage of this anti-puppy mill measure wanted to see the will of the people respected. But knowing the composition of the state legislature, and the hostility of the Republican leadership in both chambers to Prop B, we knew that we’d have to entertain compromise on some elements of the agreement, in order to protect the measure for the long term and to obviate the need for a second public vote on the issue.

The opponents of Prop B didn’t want to compromise on its core elements, and they charged ahead with a bill to repeal it (SB 113, which passed both chambers).

Dogs in cages at a Missouri puppy mill
The HSUS
Dogs in wire cages at a Missouri puppy mill in 2010

Yesterday the situation turned fairly dramatically, with an announcement that two respected Missouri animal welfare groups had reached an accord with the trade associations for the puppy mill industry and the agriculture industry. The HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends Animal Society don’t believe that the arrangement reached yesterday adequately protects Prop B.

A compromise, in this context, would have entailed some movement from both sides but ensured that Prop B remains largely intact. But this deal does fundamental damage to Prop B:

 

  • Prop B established a limit on the number of breeding dogs at 50, and that provision is gone. There’s not even a requirement that if you have 500 or 1,000 dogs you have to have enough staff on hand to care for the dogs. 
  • Prop B called for breeding females to have a rest every third heat cycle. The new measure allows dogs to be bred every heat cycle for their entire lives.
  • Prop B required an outdoor exercise area at least twice the size of a dog's indoor enclosure, so that dogs would not spend their whole life crammed in cages. This new measure requires an "outdoor run" but does not mandate any particular size, and allows the state Department of Agriculture to waive this vague mandate in regulations.
  • Prop B required veterinary care for illness or injury, but the new measure allows such care to be withheld anytime a breeder decides on his or her own that a condition is not "serious."
  • Prop B called for no stacking of cages, but the new measure allows it, as long as there is an impervious barrier between the cages. Cage stacking is a recipe for the type of overcrowding that defines the worst puppy mills.
  • Prop B stipulated no wire flooring, but the new provision allows for wire flooring as long as it’s encased. Coated wire flooring still harms dogs' paws and is unacceptable.

The new language weakens the space requirements in Prop B, and it’s extremely vague and unclear. What’s more, breeders will have five years to come into compliance with it, and that’s inordinately long in this context.

We strongly support more robust funding for enforcement of commercial dog breeding operations, as the governor proposed last week. But there’s no reason to calve off large portions of Prop B in order to have adequate enforcement. It’s a false choice, and it smacks of political extortion: agree to these changes, or we’ll defund enforcement.

HSUS believes that compromise is an important part of the political process. All along, we’ve been open to real compromise. But we insist on getting something meaningful in the process for animals, and we also believe in respecting the free and fair election on this subject that occurred less than six months ago. Missouri voters heard from both sides, read the clear ballot language about the provisions of Prop B, and made their judgment. In this case, this compromise falls far short of Prop B in protecting breeding dogs from unnecessary suffering, and it’s not worthy of support.

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