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Missouri Puppy Mills Back in Glare

State Senate repeals Prop B, now on to vote in House

Missouri Attorney General Koster at a puppy mill raid

Last November, voters in Missouri approved a ballot measure that would give some protection to dogs held for breeding in puppy mills. But state lawmakers immediately laid plans to repeal the new law.

Earlier this month, those plans came to fruition when the state Senate voted for a wholesale rewrite of Proposition B. The House is expected to do the same thing when it votes in April.

The protections that voters approved last November included that:

• 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.

In the rewrite, all of this will be rolled back. For example, instead of each dog getting an annual veterinary examination, veterinarians will only do walk-through inspections twice a year and provide exercise plans for dogs. Instead of having access to an outdoor area, dogs can be confined in stacked cages. And limits on the number of mother dogs kept for breeding will be removed.

The campaign leading up to the November election was heated, and the measure passed with just 51.6 percent of the vote. Urban voters were largely in favor of the measure, while opponents came from rural counties.

Proponents of the measure, led largely by the Humane Society of Missouri and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, stressed that the protections were very mild. Who, they asked, could object to requirements that dogs in puppy mills should be fed at least once a day?

Opponents raised specters of radical animal rights activists whose real mission was to shut down the entire farming industry in Missouri. “They want to take out agriculture across the board,” said Karen Strange of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association.

Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri, countered that the Senate bill reverts to “bare subsistence standards,” including tiny cages where dogs can barely turn around.

After the House vote in April, it will finally be up to Governor Jay Nixon to sign the repeal or veto it. While the governor has embraced a crackdown on unlicensed dog breeders, he has avoided commenting on what he might do with Prop B. In answer to questions from reporters, his spokesman, Scott Holste, e-mailed a reply saying simply, “We’ll see what action the House takes.”