During the 2009 legislative session, expect to see the fur fly as the Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN) takes on the issue of puppy mills. Puppy mills are large-scale breeders of companion animals that engage in a continuous cycle of breeding for profit. The animals are often sold to retail pet stores or internet sellers who then sell the animals to the public.
Why do we care about puppy mills? Because they are bad news. Irresponsible breeding and inadequate care are the hallmark of the puppy mill operator. Animals are kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, and many are denied adequate food and water. Locked in wire cages, the animals are generally kept outside, exposed to the elements. Tender feet often fall through the mesh, and many animals end up with broken limbs and other injuries. Veterinary care is rare.
Those animals that survive are sold and later transported in equally unhealthy and unsafe conditions. These animals, who are already diseased or dying, are then sold through retailers to the public. Purchasers, expecting to take home a new pet with whom to bond and make a part of the family, may find themselves instead paying unexpected veterinary bills as they try to save the life of their new companion. Others may find that their animals are overly timid or even excessively aggressive because of the animals’ earlier treatment at the puppy mill.
Sadly, brood females remain at the puppy mill, kept in a continuous cycle of pregnancy and weaning. When their breeding capability ends, so do their lives, ended early by the puppy mill operator who fills their space with another.
Despite these horrendous conditions, little legislation is in place to regulate puppy mills. Many domestic breeders escape regulation at the federal level by selling directly to consumers (and thereby falling outside the scope of the Animal Welfare Act). Those that comply with federal licensing requirements may still fall below minimum welfare standards because they face few inspections and, when caught, pay minimal fines.
Similarly, although the treatment of puppy mill animals may violate statutory provisions regarding care and treatment, locating the activity is difficult and criminal penalties do not prevent the activity from occurring.
To fill the void, states are beginning to adopt state legislation regulating the puppy mill industry. Texas has not yet done so, and it is time to take action. During the next session, puppy mills top the list on THLN’s legislative agenda.
Working with the Humane Society of the United States, THLN plans to seek introduction and passage of a bill that will impose state registration and permitting requirements on commercial breeders of dogs and cats. It will impose minimum standards of housing, care, treatment, transportation and disposition, require annual inspections of the breeding operations, and provide for civil and criminal enforcement mechanisms. The proposed bill will also include a “lemon law” provision that would create remedies against breeders and sellers for purchasers of sick puppies and kittens.
You can help the cause in several ways. First, don’t purchase animals from retailers of puppy mill animals. Instead, seek a companion from a shelter or rescue group. This will not only aim a blow at breeders, but will help reduce pet overpopulation.
Second, educate others about the problems with puppy mills and encourage your friends and family to join THLN. The stronger our membership, the louder our voice.
Third, contact your legislators when THLN sounds the call. It is only with your help that we can effectuate much-needed change.
Established in 1975, THLN is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that fights for the enactment and enforcement of laws to protect animals from neglect and abuse. For more information visit their website at www.THLN.org.