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May 02, 2011

The Way Forward in Missouri

In the advancement of our cause, the path to progress is not always linear. We are advancing and securing gains on so many fronts, but there are inevitable set-backs along the way. Take the example of Missouri’s Prop B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.

Lawmakers in Missouri failed to address an ever-expanding and worsening problem of puppy mills over many decades. The General Assembly, catering to the wishes of agribusiness and the puppy mill industry, provided political protection, and the industry grew to enormous proportions, with 3,000 mills and little in the way of strong animal welfare regulations or solid enforcement through the years.

White dog from a Missouri puppy mill
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
A Missouri puppy mill dog transported by HSUS this year.

HSUS, the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and local organizations launched a ballot measure to correct the worst abuses of these large-scale dog breeders and to bring into law some modest standards to the care of dogs. Voters approved the measure, in the number-one puppy mill state.

Then, after a free and fair election, lawmakers repealed several core provisions of the ballot measure, and Gov. Jay Nixon signed these weakening provisions into law. The attack on Prop B has been a shameful example of politics at its worst, with the governor and a narrow majority of lawmakers subverting a vote of the people that occurred just a few months ago.

The new legislation removes the Prop B requirement that dogs get rest between breeding cycles, as well as the limit on the number of breeding dogs per puppy mill. It removes the requirement for prompt veterinary treatment of an illness or injury, unless a puppy mill operator subjectively decides that an illness or injury is “serious.” It gives dogs less space in cages than Prop B would have and it allows the millers five years to phase in the maximum space requirements. Finally, it replaces the criminal penalties for cruelty at puppy mills with civil penalties, except for repeat offenders.

Although we are extremely disappointed with the nullification of several core Prop B standards, we will work to make what remains in the law strong through the rulemaking process. We will endeavor to hold accountable the public officials who say they support strong laws and enforcement to protect dogs. Prop B would have taken effect in November 2011, and it is our firm hope that the new regulations will be adopted on a Prop B timeframe. We’ll advocate for that time frame, and for the strongest possible standards in our work with state regulators. It’s safe to say that even these minor improvements, along with the additional funding Gov. Nixon has pledged for inspections, would never have been considered were it not for Prop B.

Meanwhile, we are actively supporting the Voter Protection Act, a constitutional amendment to require a three-fourths vote in both houses of the legislature, or a subsequent vote of the people, in order to repeal or amend any citizen-passed initiative. We will work hard with a large and diverse group of coalition partners to place this measure on the November 2012 statewide ballot. The Voter Protection Act would provide constitutional protections for citizen ballot initiatives similar to those that exist in other states. The measure still allows the state legislature to exercise its legislative authority, and if there are major problems with an initiative they will be able to build consensus for a three-fourths vote. But it adds a layer of accountability and a higher threshold so the will of the people cannot be simply discarded with a narrow vote of the legislature, as it was with Prop B.

We will actively watch to see whether the new rules and enforcement help to improve the treatment of Missouri’s puppy mill dogs, or whether the abuses continue unchecked. If the situation does not improve dramatically for dogs, we will make all necessary preparations for a ballot initiative to restore the Prop B standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding facilities. If Missourians approve the Voter Protection Act in 2012, it will help to protect the will of the people from being overturned a second time, and a future ballot initiative on puppy mills will have greater long-lasting protection from attacks by politicians and special interests.

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