Regulation of Commercial Breeders: Timely & Needed or Unnecessary & Burdensome?
In 2009, North Carolina Senate Bill 460 (SB 460), sponsored by Senator Don Davis, made its first appearance in the state legislative session. The so-called “puppy-mill bill” sought to define and regulate commercial breeders within the state. The bill would have defined a commercial breeder as “any person who owns or maintains 15 or more intact female dogs of breeding age, and 30 or more puppies primarily for the purpose of sale.” Regulation of the practice would have occurred under a licensing scheme that would have required those who met the definition of “commercial breeder” to obtain a license in order to operate in the state. The bill was pulled from consideration in 2010, because of strong opposition from the American Kennel Club (AKC), the National Rifle Association, the North Carolina Pork Council, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
The death of SB 460 did not deter animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as they continue to push for regulation of commercial breeders in North Carolina. Kim Alboum, North Carolina state director of HSUS, said her group has drafted a new bill similar to SB 460, and HSUS is seeking sponsorship in to have the new bill introduced in the 2012 short session. According to Alboum, the proposed bill contains the same licensing requirements, but redefines commercial breeder to include any person who owns or maintains 10 or more intact female dogs. The puppy requirement of SB 460 is replaced by “with the intent to breed.” Alboum anticipates the new bill will receive less opposition, but she expects AKC to strongly oppose any bill directed at breeders.
AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson said AKC has not been informed of the introduction of a bill this session, although AKC provided several recommendations and clarifications to SB 460 – all of which were rejected by the bill’s sponsors. While HSUS has not approached AKC regarding this proposed bill, Peterson said, “AKC is willing to work with a variety of organizations that are truly committed to address real issues.”
For AKC, the real issues are the dogs. “AKC does not oppose the general concept of regulating high volume commercial breeders,” Peterson commented. “But we believe that it’s more important to ensure that basic laws regarding cruelty and negligence – the wellbeing of all dogs – can first be enforced. We believe that enforcement agencies must be given appropriate resources to ensure that full enforcement of existing laws can be achieved.”
One of AKC’s concerns with SB 460 is the burden the bill would place on individual counties. This concern was not addressed in the proposed bill as local counties will remain responsible for investigations and subsequent actions. When confronted with the concern, Alboum replied, “The majority of our counties will have less than five actual breeders that will fit the definition of commercial breeder. The fact is that they are already visiting the property on complaints, which is exactly how the bill will work. The difference is that they will have standards and regulations that they can enforce rather than walking away until the animals are suffering enough for a conviction of animal cruelty.”
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Alboum when she invited me to her home for an interview. She spoke openly about HSUS, AKC, animal rights, my reservations with commercial breeder regulation, and recent ‘puppy mill’ busts within the state. Bright paintings of French and English Bulldogs adorned the walls. As we spoke, her two AKC registered Frenchies, Hudson and Apple, lounged at our feet, emitting occasional snores. Their sweet faces were in stark contrast to the haunted eyes of dogs seized in the two recent busts, and I could not help but compare these happy pets to the animals depicted in the photographs taken by HSUS in Stokes and Jones Counties earlier this year.
In early February 2012, HSUS and Stokes County Animal Control seized 150 dogs from Dan River Bullies. Breeds seized included Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzu. Alboum admittedly has a soft spot in her heart for the bully breeds and commented that this raid was especially hard for her. The owners of Dan River Bullies, Willis and Lucile Mabe, AKC breeders, were charged with 27 counts of animal cruelty. AKC has placed them on temporary referral, is monitoring the court’s adjudication of the case, and will act in accordance with its Judicial or Administrative Determination of Inappropriate Treatment Policy, according to Peterson.
Interestingly enough, Stokes County Animal Control was made aware of the situation at Dan River Bullies through an AKC policy. “Current AKC policy requires that the Compliance Department notify federal, state or local agencies of unsanitary and/or unhealthy conditions found by AKC field agents during inspections/investigations of kennels, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (APHIS) will be notified when such conditions prevail at kennels regulated by that department under the provisions of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act; and that other state/local governmental or humane agencies will be notified when such conditions are observed at kennels not regulated by federal law,” Peterson said. Local authorities were notified after an AKC field agent inspected Dan River Bullies and found conditions that warranted a letter, which resulted in the raid and subsequent seizure of the dogs.
Willis and Lucile Mabe are not the only AKC breeders who have recently been charged. Glenn and Joyce Brown were charged with 63 counts of animal cruelty after their facility was raided in March 2012. Although the dogs in that situation are in limbo as the court must decide if the surrender was valid, the Browns’ ability to use AKC services has been placed on temporary referral as AKC continues to monitor the situation.
These recent raids have proven to be catalysts in propelling the proposed bill forward. Alboum used these particular raids as prime examples why North Carolina desperately needs legislation to regulate commercial breeders. This perspective is not the only way to view these two admittedly horrible situations—the raids in Stokes and Jones, and the subsequent charges against the breeders at those facilities, show that North Carolina already has legislation to provide for the care and condition of dogs, regardless of whether the breeder fits the definition of a “commercial breeder,” and perhaps a bill directed at commercial breeders would be not only burdensome on counties, but also unnecessary.
*My interview with AKC occurred prior to the April Board of Directors Meeting. AKC has since made me aware that the Board of Directors approved enhancements to AKC’s Care and Conditions of Dogs Policy at this April meeting. These enhancements will be effective June 1, 2012. Click here to view the press release concerning the policy.