The voters voted, but the fight for better care of breeding dogs is not over
Missouri Attorney General Koster at a puppy mill raid
As we reported last week, the recent elections included a victory for people in Missouri who care about dogs. Voters said yes to Proposition B, which would put some modest restrictions on dog breeders in the state.
But considering how modest the restrictions are, there’s been considerable attention on why the measure squeaked through with only 51.6 percent of the vote. Why would anyone be against this bill? The provisions seem like no-brainers:
Dogs must be examined at least once a year by a veterinarian.
They must be fed at least once a day.
They may not be bred more than twice in any 18-month period.
They must be housed indoors and have free access to an outside area.
Breeding operations will be limited to 50 breeder dogs.
Why were almost half the voters against this?
While Prop B passed by substantial margins in urban areas, it failed in 100 of the state’s 114 counties, where messaging from local interests persuaded voters that it would hurt agriculture and jobs.
Karen Strange of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association called the proposition “an invasion by animal rights groups,” referring specifically to the Humane Society of the United States. “They want to take out agriculture across the board,” she said.
Several national animal protection groups were actively in support of the proposition, with the HSUS providing about $2 million. But the campaign was led by a local organization, the Humane Society of Missouri (HSM).
“Thousands of people stood in the cold, in the rain and in some cases in the hail to gather signatures from registered voters,” said Barbara Schmitz of HSM. “People in Missouri don’t want to see dogs being mistreated.”
Prop B’s opponents persuaded people in rural areas that the law would be a kind of Trojan horse for activists who want to stop all breeding of puppies and whose wider agenda is to shut down animal agriculture altogether.
The Alliance for Truth argued that the bill would help to raise the price of dogs and make it “more difficult for middle-class American families to be dog owners.” One of the Alliance’s supporters is Sam Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, who wrote on the group’s website that supporters of Prop B were “lying to our citizens and taking our constitutional rights away.”
“We’ve seen extremely poor overall health because of puppy mill owners putting profit above the health of their breeding stock.”
National organizations against the proposition included the American Kennel Club, which argued that it “finds the term puppy mill to be offensive to responsible breeders.” Local opponents of the measure included the state Veterinary Medical Association, which argued that most problems occur with unlicensed breeders.
The New York Times quotes the Humane Society of Missouri’s president, Kathy Warnick, as saying, “We’ve seen extremely poor overall health because of puppy mill owners putting profit above the health of their breeding stock.” HSM frequently assists local authorities when they raid breeding operations.
Several Missouri state lawmakers are making plans to repeal or dilute the new law, which will otherwise go into operation next November.
“We will start working on that issue probably immediately,” Republican Senator-elect Mike Parson told a press conference. Parson’s former district includes more than 150 licensed breeding operations and an unverified number of unlicensed ones. Earlier in the year, speaking at a Farm Bureau meeting, Parson said, “It’s not about the cruelty to animals; it’s about taking away the animals from us for consumption, and I truly believe that.”
Rep. Tom Loehner, who is the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, said that the slim margin of the vote speaks to a review of the bill.
Loehner and other opponents of the bill argue that the new regulations may force many breeders out of business and cause job losses. But proponents, like the Humane Society’s Schmitz, counter that the bill will create additional demand for veterinary services.