03/09/09 — Puppy mill legislation introduced in Raleigh

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Puppy mill legislation introduced in Raleigh

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 9, 2009 1:46 PM

Responding to the recent raid on Thornton Kennels and the seizure of nearly 300 dogs, state Sen. Don Davis introduced a bill Thursday regulating such so-called puppy mills.

Davis, D-Greene, said he decided to introduce the legislation after seeing the effects of the breeding operation run by Virginia Thornton.

However, he also was quick to emphasize that his bill only targets those kinds of "commercial breeders."

"What this does is create a definition for commercial breeders -- those individuals who are engaged in mass breeding for the primary purpose of selling companion animals to other individuals," he said. "What it does not do is go after hunters, hobby breeders, farm animals, guide dogs or sporting dogs. This bill does not go after them and I would not have any problem spelling that out.

"But I think it's a very tight bill that goes after what it's meant to go after -- puppy mills."

Currently, the bill defines a commercial breeder as anyone who in "any 12-month period, maintains 15 or more adult female dogs for the primary purpose of the sale of their offspring as companion animals."

It goes on to say that just as the state Department of Agriculture currently sets standards for kennels, animals shelters and pet shops, so, too, shall it set standards of care for commercial breeding operations -- including daily exercise, veterinary care, housing and record keeping -- and require that all commercial breeders be licensed at a cost of $50 a year.

The legislation also prohibits commercial breeders from breeding female dogs less than 18 months and more than 8 years of age, and requires that the health of each eligible female be certified by a licensed veterinarian.

Additionally, regular inspections would be allowed and the failure of a commercial breeder to meet the requirements would result in a Class 3 misdemeanor and a fine of at least $50 per dog, up to a total of $1,000, as well as the seizure of the animals by state and local authorities.

If approved by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by the governor, the bill would become effective on Dec. 1.

"I believe if we'd had this bill before that Thornton Kennel place, it would have given them more ability to go in and do an inspection and perhaps it wouldn't have taken as long (to shut it down)," Davis said.

But, he said, even with the bill, the goal is not to shut down all commercial breeders -- just bring them under some sort of regulation.

"We really tried to walk a fine line between not going too far and overreaching, and giving it enough teeth to make sure commercial breeders are being responsible," he said. "That's the focus. It's not to say you can't do it. It's just saying if you are you a commercial breeder, you need to do it responsibly, and if you can't, you need to close your doors."

State Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, is expected to introduce a companion bill in the House either today or Tuesday, with a possible amendment spelling out that farmers, hobby breeders, hunters and others are exempted.

"We (Davis and him) have communicated back and forth for the last three weeks to make sure we did nothing but take care of puppy mills," Sager said. "We wanted to take our time and make sure we did not reach too far with this thing."