A battle royal is underway in Missouri - the undisputed puppy mill capital of the nation - where voters in November will decide whether to impose higher standards of care for hundreds of thousands of breeding dogs in commercial kennels.
On one side are local, state and national humane groups and the Better Business Bureau among others. On the other, the pet breeding and farming industries.
Prop B, as the referendum is known, would require larger cage sizes, ban wire flooring and mandate veterinary care for breeding dogs among other provisions. The precedent-setting 2008 Pennsylvania dog law served as the impetus for the Missouri ballot question, said Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation.
The Missouri initiative would go further than the Pennsylvania law in that it stipulates any facility with more than 10 intact female dogs constitutes a kennel that must be in compliance, and it institutes a cap on the number of breeding dogs at 50. Pennsylvania has no cap on the number of dogs housed in a facility and the law only applies to kennels that sell or transfer 60 dogs a year.
Pet breeding is indeed huge business in Missouri where 200,000 breeding dogs produce roughly 1 million puppies every year.
Breeders in that state account for 30 percent of all federally licensed dog kennels in the U.S. and their puppies make up 40 percent of all those sold in pet stores. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 68 percent of all puppies sold in New York City pet stores come from Missouri.
Baker said the opposition has waged a widespread "misinformation" campaign wrongly suggesting that all farm animals would be subject to the law. The lead opposition group, Missouri Federation of Pet Breeders, accuses HSUS of being a "radical animal rights group" whose goal is to eliminate all dog breeding and farming operations.
Referendum supporters were given a boost recently by actions at two commercial kennels in Missouri that resulted in the removal of more than one hundred dogs. In one case, the ASPCA removed 71 dogs from an overrun puppy mill in Camden County. The dogs—which included Dachshunds, Maltese, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Huskies and Boxers— were suffering from a variety of ailments. (The dog pictured above was one of 45 seized by the Humane Society of Missouri from a kennel in Green County. She was found suffering from an eye infection and severe hair loss.)
Baker's group and others are asking Missouri authorities to look into allegations of widespread tax evasion in the puppy mill industry. A recent investigation showed 11 kennels - which had among them inspection reports indicating a pattern of violations to the federal animal welfare act - were paying no state tax on retail dog sales. They said a state probe is needed because they believe widespread tax avoidance in the puppy mill industry could be costing the state millions.