Raids on puppy mills give weight to push for more state reg­u­la­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Erin Mulvaney

An­i­mal res­cue of­fi­cials are scram­bling to com­bat com­mer­cial dog-breed­ing farms, say­ing that as sur­round­ing states clamp down on puppy mills, Texas risks be­com­ing a haven for a largely un­reg­u­lated in­dus­try.

Po­lice and an­i­mal of­fi­cials have en­tered barns and sheds around the state to find hun­dreds of dogs stacked in cages, many mal­nour­ished and dis­eased.

In Cen­tral Texas, the Gulf Coast and the south­west­ern part of the state, in­quiries into an­i­mal bro­kers, deal­ers and dog breed­ers have nearly dou­bled in the past two years, said Marissa Gabrysch of the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau.

An­i­mal-wel­fare ad­vo­cates are look­ing to the Leg­is­la­ture to help, say­ing Texas’ size and lack of strong laws to reg­u­late breed­ers have al­lowed cruel op­er­a­tions to flour­ish.

“We have the per­fect el­e­ment: geog­ra­phy, land de­mo­graph­ics for buy­ers, lit­tle reg­u­la­tion,” said James Bias, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dal­las chap­ter of the So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals.

But some breed­ers will seek to de­feat those ef­forts, say­ing a leg­isla­tive crack­down is not needed.

Dal­las SPCA of­fi­cials said they have seen an in­crease in com­plaints about breed­ing prac­tices. In the past three years, Bias said, his group has re­moved an­i­mals from at least a dozen puppy mills just in the Dal­las area.

“These op­er­a­tors have got­ten very covert,” said Bias, who helps law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in­spect com­mer­cial breed­ing farms.

In Au­gust, the Kauf­man County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment and lo­cal and na­tional an­i­mal res­cue groups con­fis­cated 550 dogs from Mar­garet and Tony Boyd’s Klassie Ken­nel on a farm near Ma­bank.

Dogs were crammed in wire cages, many sick, with missing fur and skin dis­eases, sur­rounded by fe­ces smeared on the walls and trash strewn through­out the build­ings.

Owner Mar­garet Boyd, 72, who had been breed­ing and sell­ing dogs for about 40 years, de­nied hurt­ing the an­i­mals and said she con­sid­ered them to be a part of her life.

The cou­ple was found guilty of an­i­mal cru­elty, and paid $1,045 in fines and court fees. Costs for ba­sic care and med­i­cal ser­vices for the an­i­mals could reach $150,000, said the Hu­mane So­ci­ety and the SPCA.

Rep. Sen­fro­nia Thomp­son, D-Hous­ton, wants to stiffen reg­u­la­tions for com­mer­cial breed­ing op­er­a­tions. A sim­i­lar bill failed in the last Leg­is­la­ture af­ter op­po­si­tion from pet breed­ers and vet­eri­nar­i­ans.

The new pro­posal would re­quire a com­mer­cial breeder to ob­tain a li­cense, pay a fee set by the Depart­ment of Li­cens­ing and Reg­u­la­tion and al­low ini­tial and an­nual in­spec­tions to up­hold ba­sic U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture rules.

A com­mer­cial breeder would be de­fined as a per­son who has 11 or more adult fe­male an­i­mals and is en­gaged in breed­ing an­i­mals for sale.

An agency within the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment now reg­u­lates com­mer­cial breed­ers that sell whole­sale, or through pet stores, but it does not reg­u­late busi­nesses sell­ing through the In­ter­net, flea mar­kets or clas­si­fied ads. Breed­ers who are not li­censed fall un­der the state’s an­i­mal cru­elty laws, but their op­er­a­tions go with­out in­spec­tion un­less po­lice get a com­plaint.

In May, the fed­eral depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral chided the An­i­mal and Plant Health In­spec­tion Ser­vice’s ef­forts in pro­tect­ing an­i­mals. The re­port cited “le­niency to­ward vi­o­la­tors, the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of its en­force­ment process and the harm­ful ef­fect they had on the an­i­mals.”

“The USDA doesn’t do a very good job of en­forc­ing their own reg­u­la­tions,” said Skip Trim­ble, chair­man of the Texas Hu­mane Leg­is­la­tion Net­work, a group help­ing Thomp­son draft her leg­is­la­tion.

The Re­spon­si­ble Pet Own­ers Al­liance op­poses breeder reg­u­la­tions, say­ing the in­creas­ing raids prove cur­rent laws are suf­fi­cient to root out abusers, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Mary Beth Duer­ler.

“The Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States has an agenda to stop all breed­ing,” she said. “This is not an anti-puppy mill bill, it’s an anti-breed­ing bill.”

Some breed­ers agree. Leslie Becker of New Braunfels has been breed­ing Nor­wich Ter­ri­ers for 49 years and said rep­utable breed­ers like her do not need to be reg­u­lated.

“There are so many vari­ables in breed­ing that one rule just doesn’t ap­ply,” Becker said.

Since 2009, lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies across the state have con­ducted 10 raids of com­mer­cial breed­ing farms, in con­trast to an av­er­age of two raids in pre­vi­ous years.

“Puppy mills have grown tremen­dously in the pub­lic eye,” said Dale Bartlett, a spokesman for the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States. “Peo­ple are more and more aware of what a puppy mill is and how some are treated.”

Texas is among the top 10 states in the num­ber of li­censed com­mer­cial breed­ers, said the fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment. About half the states have reg­u­la­tions over com­mer­cial breed­ing farms.

Texas is now, af­ter Ok­la­homa re­cently passed a law, one of the top puppy-pro­duc­ing states left that doesn’t have any reg­u­la­tion, Bartlett said. He pre­dicted Texas will be­come a mag­net for some larger and less scrupu­lous op­er­a­tions.

Op­po­si­tion from the Texas Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and the Re­spon­si­ble Pet Own­ers Al­liance helped de­rail the last puppy mill bill. El­iz­a­beth Choate, a spokes­woman for the vet­eri­nary group, said the doc­tors will seek to help shape the new mea­sure.

“No one is for puppy mills,” she said, but her group “wants to make sure com­mer­cial breed­ers are al­lowed to op­er­ate in a hu­mane way.”

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