A dangerous bill in Iowa threatens to undo decades of progress for animals in the state, including dogs suffering in puppy mills and wild animals in traveling exhibits.
The bill, SF 483, introduced by Sen. Dan Zumbach, ostensibly seeks to prevent cities and counties from enacting any local laws that could cause a “financial hardship” to an animal enterprise or a business that uses working animals. It is, in fact, a thinly veiled attempt to free those who profit from animals, like puppy mills, from any accountability, under local law, for how they treat the animals in their care.
In addition to prohibiting any new local laws, the bill seeks to overturn hundreds, maybe thousands, of commonsense city and county ordinances created by local lawmakers to protect working animals.
For instance, the bill would void ordinances in the cities of Stuart, Boone and Fraser, which prohibit the sales of puppies in pet stores as a way to end the exploitation of dogs in puppy mills. It would void an ordinance in the city of Waterloo that prohibits the use of the bull hook, a fireplace-poker-like device used to force captive elephants to perform in circuses. And it would nullify a law in Story County that requires more thorough and frequent inspections of puppy mills than the state requires.
Proponents of the bill hold out the falsehood that the law would protect Iowa’s agriculture industries. They also claim that operations like puppy mills are already "heavily regulated." But most Iowans and Americans do not consider puppy mills, traveling wildlife shows and roadside zoos, which would all benefit from this bill, as agricultural enterprises. And far from being “heavily regulated,” puppy mills, which are notorious for mistreating the animals in their care while depriving them of the most basic necessities, are thriving in Iowa. The state consistently ranks near the top of our annual Horrible Hundred report of problem puppy mills in the United States.
Pet stores that source from puppy mills would also stand to benefit. We already know that puppy-selling pet stores have a terrible record in Iowa: of four stores that sell puppy mill puppies in the state, all but one have received multiple “non-compliant” inspection reports from state inspectors in the last year. Among these is Petland of Iowa City, which has repeatedly been cited for failing to provide solid resting surfaces for puppies in wire floor cages and packing too many puppies into small cages. Several puppy mills previously named in our Horrible Hundred reports have sold dogs to this Petland in recent years. Local ordinances are essential to keep stores like Petland from continuing to profit off puppy mills and from neglecting and mistreating the animals in their care.
Residents of the Hawkeye State want animals in operations like puppy mills and pet stores protected and have, in fact, repeatedly asked for stronger animal protection laws. A 2019 Remington Research Group poll showed that 69% of Iowans believe domestic animal torture should result in a felony charge. In 2020, state lawmakers passed such a bill and it was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, but not before it was amended and weakened. Despite the advances that came with the law, Iowa remains the only state in the country without an automatic felony charge for animal torture. Animal advocates in the state have also been lobbying for other progress, including ending breed-specific legislation, but these efforts have gained no traction.
SF 483 is now moving forward, and it is crucial we stop it in its tracks. The bill has passed the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee with a vote of 8-4 and now awaits a full Senate vote. It has the support of such groups as AKC and the Cavalry Group—groups with a record of supporting puppy mills.
It is shameful that lawmakers who refuse to guarantee animals the most basic protections should now be raring to add to their troubles. Were this bill to become law, these lawmakers would not only set a dangerous precedent by gagging the citizens who voted for them, but they would further cement Iowa's reputation as an outlier in a nation where legislators are increasingly passing laws to protect animals. If you live in Iowa, please call your state legislators immediately and ask them to vote against SF 483. It is high time these elected officials stop pandering to special interests and focus on what their voters would want them to do: protect animals, not throw them at the mercy of those who are already mistreating them.