Missouri Puppy Mill Law Facing Possible Challenges

While many welcomed the approval of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, opponents of the law still hope the act can be overturned or amended.

Nearly 1 million Missouri voters voted to approve the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, also known as Proposition B, a statewide ballot initiative to establish basic standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding facilities. An estimated 3,000 puppy mills operate in Missouri, with more than one million puppies for the pet trade being produced every year in Missouri – leading to the state being termed the "Puppy Mill Capital" of the United States.

But "Prop B" failed in more than 100 of Missouri’s 114 counties, and was passed by fewer than 61,000 votes. And without support from voters in St. Louis County, the act would have failed by more than 80,000 votes. This is why rural voters who operate what they see as legitimate breeding operations feel the act will unfairly punish them. The act’s passage was warmly welcomed by the ASPCA’s President, Ed Sayres, who called the passage a "landmark achievement in the ongoing fight against animal cruelty". Sayres added that he hoped that other states would follow Missouri’s lead, and that Missourians had set "an admirable precedent for reform". But the act has been opposed from the beginning by veterinary association, including the American Veterinary Medical Assocation (AVMA).

"Unfortunately, Proposition B doesn’t do much to actually provide for the care of animals, but only sets limits on the number of animals that can be kept. And there is no research to show that limit laws, like Proposition B, actually do anything to improve the welfare of the animal. The AVMA has drafted model legislation that, if enacted, would actually improve the welfare of dogs at breeding facilities, animal shelters, retail pet stores and other types of operations," said Dr. Ron Dehaven, the AVMA’s chief executive officer. And these sentiments are echoed by the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA). "We care very much about the welfare of dogs in breeding facilities in our state. The issue of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act has come about because breeding facilities that are unlicensed are not being regulated or inspected. Our state has good existing laws, but those laws need enforcement. Passing blanket initiatives without careful consideration of the facts and ignoring existing law is not in the best interest of the dogs we are trying to protect," said a spokesman for the MVMA.

Several lawmakers currently serving in the legislature do not believe that the law will regulate the breeders that are causing the problem and at the same time will force legitimate operations out of business. Commentators have voiced the opinion that a repeal of the law is unlikely because this would be vetoed by Governor Nixon, but that amendments to the act are probable, including removing the limit on the number of dogs and mandatory veterinary care for minor issues.

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