A group of dog breeders in Missouri has dropped its federal lawsuit seeking to euthanize tough anti-puppy mill regulations that have been in place since 2011.
Why should animal lovers in Pennsylvania care?
Thousands of puppies bred in Missouri - the puppy mill Capital of the nation - are shipped to pet stores here and New Jersey every year.
The puppies endure a long, hard journey at a young age and it's not uncommon for those dogs to have contagious diseases or genetic defects that mean sky-high vet bills for unsuspecting buyers and possibly the loss of their pet.
Left behind were tens of thousands of breeding dogs who until recently lived in miserable conditions that were legal under state law. When the new regulations were put in place, largely modeled after Pennsylvania law, with larger cage sizes, veterinarian requirements and access to outdoor areas, many breeders chose closure over compliance.
In 2009 there were 1,998 licensed commercial breeders and dealers in Missouri. In 2013 that number plummeted to 963. (Compare that with Pennsylvania's high of about 350 commercial breeders, now down to about 52.)
Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation,attributes the decline to the passage of the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act which raised standards of care and gave authority to the attorney general to prosecute non-compliant or unlicensed kennels (prior to that prosecutions were handled by local district attorneys more sympathetic with puppy millers, he said.)
Baker has seen "vastly improved enforcement efforts" by the state Department of Agriculture under Gov. Jay Nixon who more than doubled the inspection staff.
At the same time Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster established a special unit in his office to prosecute substandard kennels and unlicensed kennels. The new unit is called the Canine Cruelty Prevention Unit. In the first 12 months they have successfully prosecuted 30 dog breeding facilities, he said.
Baker, who before he took his current job had played a key role in drafting legislation and investigating puppy mills in Pennsylvania over the course of 30 years, said he believes the lawsuit was dropped because testimony at a trial would have exposed the horrendous conditions in puppy mills and stunned the animal-loving public.
Baker said at the hearing for a preliminary injunction, one Missouri breeder testified that when she was told she had to provide her dogs with access to the outdoors, she chose to kill them rather than comply with the new rule.
"She had her veterinarian euthanize 72 of them and proudly presented a photo of 25 dead dogs to the judge as evidence of how her business has suffered since passage of the new law," he wrote in a newsletter to members.
Another breeder in the courtroom audience said that she also destroyed her dogs rather than meet new requirements and bragged that she only had to pay her vet $7 per dog to have them euthanized.
Sound familiar Pennsylvania?
Who can forget the Zimmerman brothers of Berks County, Elmer and Ammon, who slaughtered 80 dogs in their cages five years ago this summer, rather than provide them flea treatment as ordered by the dog warden.
(That case occurred before the Pennsylvania dog law was signe by Gov. Rendell. In fact the horror of that event helped galvanize passage.)
The following year Marcus Lantz, operator of Slate Hill Kennel, wrote to a state regulatory board to oppose the new kennel regulations requiring standards of ventilation, ammonia levels and lighting in commercial kennels.
In a hand-written letter he told the board he had to kill his retired breeding dog, Charlotte and seven others because he couldn't comply with the new cage space requirements. I toured the kennel facility on Lantz's farm west of Harrisburg in Cumberland County. There was no shortage of space and, surprise, today he's a licensed commercial breeder.
Pennsylvania breeders sued too after the passage of the state dog law on constitutional grounds, arguing it "unfairly" targeted large commercial kennels. That suit was tossed by the federal court.
In an e-newsletter to members of the alliance, Baker listed a litany of absurd arguments breeders used: that "unfettered access" to the outdoor was not properly defined, that their dogs were too excitable and being outdoors could kill them.
Still others argued that dogs do not need access to sunlight and objected to providing extra bedding because they didn't know what "extra bedding" meant.
A trial would have brought out many more such silly arguments and no doubt troubling descriptions of kennel conditions that breeders deemed acceptable, but that the animal-loving public would turn their collective lip at and snarl.
(Graphic: Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation)