You might presume that providing animals with adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care is something everyone can get behind. I did. But to hear the opposition tell it, Missouri’s Proposition B is a “radical” bill that would impose unfair restrictions on Missouri’s animal breeders. In reality, Prop B is the culmination of a common sense, bipartisan effort to protect not only Missouri animals, but customers in Missouri and across the nation.
A dog’s life in Missouri puppy mills
Last month the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) Animal Cruelty Task Force rescued more than 100 dogs from two breeding facilities in southern Missouri. In one facility, 45 dogs were found living in their own filth. Their drinking water contained algae, their food was covered in mold, and their bedding was soaked in urine. The unlicensed breeder responsible for this atrocity had already been charged with animal cruelty in Missouri’s Newton County earlier in the year. Having abandoned the facility, this breeder left the animals there without food or water. Many of the dogs died of starvation.
Par for the course? Earlier this year, HSMO rescued 157 pets from deplorable conditions in Franklin County, where the animals were found in cages overflowing with feces and suffering from respiratory illness. Rabbits, dogs, cats, baby goats, doves, chickens, and guinea pigs were among the victims of neglect.
No, this isn’t a horror movie. This is the wretched reality in Missouri where animal protection laws and regulations are archaic and grossly inadequate. Jeane Jae, VP of Communications for the Humane Society of Missouri, puts a number to the problem. There are over 1,800 licensed dog breeders in Missouri and she says there are estimated to be a similar number of unlicensed breeders. That is five times the number of licensed breeders in the next highest state, and it’s why Missouri is considered the “Puppy Mill Capital” of America.
Equally horrifying is the number of licensed breeders guilty of numerous offenses against animals. Earlier this month, HSMO released a report detailing the charges against the twelve worst puppy mills in Missouri. The “winners,” chosen for both the number and severity of grievances, were charged with things like keeping animals in freezing temperatures, starving the animals under their charge, and neglecting to provide them with veterinary care that resulted in oozing sores and bloody wounds. One breeder on the list has over 500 pages of violations and is the defendant in a recent lawsuit filed by a group of customers in Randolph County, Missouri.
Not just a Missouri story
Missouri’s puppy mills have far-reaching consequences. The Better Business Bureaus of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield have received more than 350 complaints from Missourians and out-of-state buyers, some of whom spent thousands of dollars on unforeseen veterinary care for their Missouri bred-and-bought pets.
A woman in Nevada bought a Yorkshire terrier from a pet store in Springfield, Missouri for $1,400. A quick trip to the vet revealed the pup had parvovirus, a contagious disease that causes intestinal problems and can become deadly if left untreated. In a complaint to the BBB, the Nevada woman says she spent about $3,000 to treat her Yorkshire for the disease.
In another complaint [to the St. Louis BBB], a Massachusetts woman says she bought a puppy from a breeder in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. The puppy died just 5 days later from parvovirus after she spent $1,500 on medical care.
Rescued animals are often found with preventable illnesses: infections, open wounds, mites, and fleas. However, the underlying problem, over-breeding, neglect, and abuse, must be treated with legal remedies.
What’s in Proposition B?
Prop B fair ballot language explains the ballot initiative this way:
A “yes” vote will amend Missouri law to require large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles. The amendment further prohibits any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets. The amendment also creates a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any violations.
A “no” vote will not change the current Missouri law regarding dog breeders.
If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.
Joe the Plumber opposes Prop B; Tony La Russa supports it
“Joe the Plumber” aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, claims that Prop B is an attempt by lawmakers to control the number of dogs a business can own. In addition, a group aligning itself with Joe’s take on Prop B has jumped into the fray.
“It is being driven by propaganda rather than truth and depends on emotional appeal rather than the achievement of meaningful reform,” Alliance for Truth proclaims on its home page, in a statement written by Rep. Ed Emery, R-28. For the people who have made it their life’s work to care for sick or injured animals and for the people who have dedicated themselves to adopting rescued animals, it is surely an emotional issue.
Alliance for Truth, an anti-Prop B group, has a laundry list of Republican, agribusiness, and corporate endorsers and is financed primarily by agricultural groups. Another opposition group, Missourians for Animal Care, has received donations solely from agribusiness. Together they have raised nearly $100,000, while proponents have raised $5 million plus from Missouri and national donors.
This is far from a partisan issue, however. Alliance for Truth has picked up two Democratic endorsements. On the pro side, proponents of Prop B have garnered support from St. Louis Cardinals’ manager and animal-rights activitist Tony La Russa, Republican strategist Roy Pfautch, Linda Bond, and former U.S. Senator, Republican John Danforth.
Opponents call Prop B a“radical” bill. But Prop B proponents say putting a cap on the number of breeding dogs helps guarantee breeders won’t be overwhelmed.
Whether you have a pet that calls you home or not, Proposition B isn’t about partisan politics and restrictions on good business. It is about ensuring animal safety and helping Missouri breeders get out from under the reputation of producing sick and dying pets. That is a win-win proposition for everyone.
Stacy Mergenthal is an activist for progressive causes and voice for the working class. She currently resides in Missouri with her family.