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June 15, 2011

Puppy Mill Debate Continues in Missouri

I had a great series of events for The Bond throughout Ohio this last week, and I talked about the themes in the book and also updated so many people in the state about progress on the eight-point animal welfare agreement reached last year between The HSUS and agriculture leaders. Today, I’m dashing around Missouri, where the big news is the continuing debate over Prop B and the legislature’s weakening of its core provisions.

Yesterday, Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster appeared at a press conference at the Humane Society of Missouri to reiterate their plan for amped-up enforcement of dog-breeding standards in the state. We must have enforcement of our animal protection laws, and there’s no doubt that more money and resolve for enforcement is a good thing. But there’s also a bit of a bait-and-switch going on here.

Yellow puppy rescued from a Missouri puppy mill in 2011
Kathleen Summers/The HSUS
The HSUS has helped care for hundreds of
rescued puppy mill dogs in Missouri this year.

Voters approved Prop B to strengthen standards governing the care of dogs on large, commercial breeding facilities, after both sides made their case to the electorate. Two things should have followed: 1) The Legislature should have been expected to respect the judgment of voters, even if they disagreed with it as a matter of policy. And 2) the executive agency–in this case, the Missouri Department of Agriculture–was to implement and enforce the law.

Instead, a narrow majority of lawmakers decided to mount an effort to gut Prop B. We and our coalition partners fought it hard, but the pro-puppy mill forces prevailed by slim margins in the House and Senate. We had hoped that Gov. Nixon would be a backstop and veto any effort to unravel a vote of the people. But instead he decided to negotiate a last-minute deal that left several core provisions of Prop B on the cutting-room floor. He did, however, push for more dollars to help the Attorney General and the Department of Agriculture crack down on bad breeders.

The effort to step up enforcement is a positive development. But it’s not an either-or situation. We can have a good underlying law to crack down on bad breeding operations and also see that the law is properly enforced.

It’s shameful that some lawmakers chose to substitute their judgment for that of voters. And it’s a major disappointment that Gov. Nixon did not stand up for the people, and chose to try to have it both ways–to allow a weakening of the ballot measure, even while laying claim to the mantle of dog protection by urging stronger enforcement.

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