Animal activists target puppy mills across the state

Attempts at state regulation fail, so activists try something new

However, after years of seeing the same bill knocked down as the problem continued to get worse, several rival organizations worry that AHS's approach, while based in good intentions, is misguided.

"The crux of the question is, how do you define a mill? There could be a breeder abusing a small number of dogs and another one could have 50 and treating them well," says veterinarian Teresa Hershey, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. "It's not a crime to breed dogs. One of the concerns is making sure that good breeders aren't criminalized."

For months, staff at Animal Ark has worked with the Minnesota Purebred Association and state veterinary groups to tackle the program strategically.

A Shih Tzu found with an eye wound at Pick of the Litter
courtesy of the Companion Animal Protection Society
A Shih Tzu found with an eye wound at Pick of the Litter

"If you take the idea that all breeding is bad, then you have cut out a very critical and important stakeholder with a large voice at the Legislature," says Fry. "The small breeders are very responsible and most have the same desires and goals that we do. The failure to include them in the planning for previous bills has really been bad. It's caused massive opposition, yet that's what they keep doing over and over again, and that's why they keep failing and failing."

Instead of defining commercial breeding facilities with a number, Animal Ark's bill would work to finance and enforce current state cruelty laws.

If there is a number that would require state licensure, it is likely to be around 100, says Beth Nelson, a personal lobbyist for puppy mill legislation and host of Animal Ark's Animal Wise radio show. "We are not trying to create a whole new set of rules. In fact, generally, our interpretation is that the state regulations that are on the books today are stronger than USDA requirements. They just have to be enforced."

And that is more likely to happen when there are fewer facilities to inspect, says Hershey. When the number of animals required to define a commercial breeding facility is so low that even the hobby breeders are included, it places an overwhelming burden on the state. There just isn't enough staff or funding.

"You might catch more people, but you might just overwhelm the investigators," she says. "You're talking thousands of facilities." 

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