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Puppy Mill Dog Helps Spread the Word: Don’t Overturn Prop B

  • Oscar's ballot box costume helped get the message across. Yvonne Foo

Oscar, a four-year-old smooth fox terrier, lives in a loving home in St. Louis.

But long before he had a home or even a name, Oscar was just a number—one of tens of thousands of dogs confined inside small wire cages within Missouri's estimated 3,000 puppy mills.

In these cruel mass-breeding facilities, dogs are treated not like pets but like breeding machines.

A victory in memory of the others

"Many times we wondered what happened to the rest of his littermates and his parents," said Oscar's adopter, Carol Bernier. "It breaks our hearts to think of his mother and sisters, who might still be living their lives as breeder dogs in inhumane conditions."

That concern prompted Bernier to custom-design a Prop B ballot box costume for Oscar last Halloween. Oscar dons his comfy, non-restrictive costume as needed for public appearances and photographs.

On the morning of Election Day, for example, Oscar appeared in the ballot box costume for a St. Louis television news report. He also attended the Humane Society of Missouri's election night party, where he hobnobbed with the leaders of national and local animal welfare groups. Oscar was as happy as anyone there when the cheers of victory erupted at the party, as Prop B passed with 52 percent of the popular vote.

Keep the costume handy

Unfortunately, less than a month after the election, Prop B came under attack when a bill seeking its repeal was filed before the 2011 session.

"It's a shame that certain lawmakers decided to disregard the fact that a majority of Missouri citizens favored Prop B," said Barbara Schmitz, director of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs and The HSUS' Missouri state director. "Overturning the will of the voters is undemocratic. We will keep fighting to preserve Prop B and protect dogs from puppy mill cruelty."

More industry deception

Prop B is a simple measure, dealing only with setting basic humane standards for puppy mills.

Yet industries that profit from animal abuse tried to confuse voters about Prop B with a campaign of false statements, misrepresentations, and scare tactics. The opposition claimed, for example, that Prop B would somehow affect farming and food production—even though the measure says nothing about cattle, chickens, pigs, or any animals other than dogs.

"The same outrageously false scare tactics were used twelve years ago when Missouri passed a citizens' initiative against cockfighting: twelve years later, that law has never been used or amended to include any animals other than those used for fighting, despite the industry's attempted scare tactics," said Schmitz.

In both cases, the industry's attempts to obfuscate the issues failed, and voters passed the measures anyway.

Prevailing for the puppies

Overturning Prop B would send a message to the voters that their choices don’t matter, and that if legislators don't agree with what the majority of citizens have passed into law, they can simply nullify those results. In light of the recent moves to overturn the law, Oscar is dusting off his ballot-box costume in case he's needed for more appearances. Bernier hopes it can bring some lighthearted attention to an otherwise grim issue.

"We take every opportunity to tell our friends about the horrors of puppy mills through Oscar," said Bernier. "Being known as the state capital of puppy mills is nothing to be proud of. We hope that more Missouri politicians take a stand on this critical issue."

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