April 14, 2010
A Referendum on Puppy Mills
Missourians working to get measure on Nov. ballot
by Julie Hauserman
Barbara Schmitz, Missouri state director for The Humane Society of the United States, has been working to collect the signatures with Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, a coalition of individuals and animal welfare organizations.
“Over the years, I’ve talked with people who’ve purchased puppies born in puppy mills who ended up with numerous medical problems,” she said. “Some of them die within a week of purchase. Others suffer from lifelong illnesses. I know the heartbreak that families are feeling.
“Our hope is this initiative passes and helps stamp out the cycle of misery and abuse dogs suffer at the hands of puppy mill operators—all to turn a profit,” she said.
A Shameful Reputation
Missouri is known as “America’s puppy mill capital,” with an estimated 3,000 facilities in the state that breed hundreds of thousands of puppies, far more than any other state in the country.
These high-volume facilities breed dogs under harsh conditions with inadequate shelter and care. Dogs from puppy mills are sold in pet stores, online and directly to consumers, with little to no regard for the dogs' health, genetic history or future welfare.
The initiative—which doesn't apply to breeders with 10 or fewer intact female dogs—would require large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each breeding dog under their care with the basics of humane animal care, including:
• Sufficient food and clean water
• Necessary veterinary care
• Sufficient housing, including protection from the elements
• Sufficient space to turn and stretch freely, lie down, and fully extend their limbs
• Regular exercise
• Adequate rest between breeding cycles
• A limit of 50 breeding dogs per facility
A misdemeanor charge of “puppy mill cruelty” may be filed for any violation of the proposed law.
Joining the Bandwagon
If the initiative passes, Missouri will join several other states that have enacted similar laws through their state legislatures. Groups involved in the effort include the Humane Society of Missouri, the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and The HSUS.
“The puppy mill situation here in Missouri is what brought me into the animal protection movement, and I think it’s the same for a lot of other people,” Schmitz said.
“Unfortunately, puppies here are thought of by certain people as a cash crop,” she said. “The reality is we’re not going to be able to circumvent these special interests in the state capitol, and to get a stronger law passed, we have to go straight to the people.”
Bringing on Change
Missourians horrified by the shameful puppy mill industry in their state have turned out to rallies and other events to support the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. Volunteers braved cold spring weather to gather signatures throughout the state, and participated in the annual “Barkus” dog parade in St. Louis in February to raise awareness.
Schmitz became involved in the issue after seeing a television story about the cruel conditions in puppy mills. She says she couldn’t get the pictures out of her mind and had to do something about it.
“Unfortunately, too many puppies here are confined to a life of misery,” she said. “This is an issue we have to deal with—it’s past time. We’re ready to take this to the voters and make real change.”