Some Progress in Missouri for Puppy Mill Dogs, Additional Reforms Still Needed

November 15, 2011

The Missouri Department of Agriculture recently released new animal care standards for large-scale commercial dog breeding facilities, also known as puppy mills, in the state. The new standards strengthen the protections for dogs in some areas. For example, the standards mandate that veterinarians play a more integral role in the lives of puppy mill dogs by requiring, at minimum, an annual physical exam, prompt treatment of any serious illness or injury and humane euthanasia, when necessary.

Puppy mill dog
Missouri has the unfortunate reputation of being known as the "puppy mill capital of America" due to it's estimated 3,000 large-scale dog breeding operations.
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

However, the standards also weaken the protections in other areas by failing to adequately address critical issues such as flooring, outdoor access and exercise requirements. Furthermore, the standards impose a new tax and per-animal fee on nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups for every animal adopted—up to $2,500 per year—treating these groups like commercial business enterprises. These charitable groups do not profit from selling dogs, but instead provide a service to the state, often handling hundreds of dogs seized from illegal puppy mills and cleaning up the messes that commercial breeders have made. HSVMA and other animal welfare groups are calling on the Department to allow a hardship waiver for the new tax and to reduce the license fee for shelters and rescues.

The new standards are the result of an ongoing political debate in Missouri regarding the welfare of dogs in puppy mills. The state has an estimated 2,500 puppy mills producing hundreds of thousands of puppies a year, far more than any other state in the country. For this reason, Missouri has earned an unflattering reputation as the “puppy mill capital of America.” One year ago, in November 2010, many Missouri veterinarians and the HSVMA joined nearly one million voters throughout their state in celebrating the passage of Proposition B—also known as The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act—a statewide ballot initiative to establish basic standards of humane care for dogs in large-scale commercial breeding facilities. Prop B’s common-sense requirements included sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise; and adequate rest between breeding cycles.

In order to give Missouri breeders time to meet the new standards mandated by Prop B, the law was scheduled to take effect one year later—in November 2011. However, in April—only five months after its passage—the Missouri legislature enacted legislation substantially overturning Prop B. Governor Jay Nixon, despite public polls indicating strong voter opposition to a Prop B repeal, refused to block this legislative action. Instead, with the assistance of the state Department of Agriculture, he brokered a deal to pass an alternative ‘compromise’ law that reinstated some of Prop B’s reforms and beefed up enforcement of existing rules governing Missouri’s commercial dog breeding facilities.

The new standards are the result of this political debate and, as noted above, have prompted some progress in protecting puppy mill dogs. The standards clarify that an annual hands-on veterinary exam must be performed on every dog and that prior to breeding, each dog must receive individual veterinary approval. The standards also include greater detail about what constitutes "serious illness or injury" triggering required veterinary attention, and specific temperature and weather condition parameters were set, more clearly defining the breeder requirement to provide protection from "extreme weather." However, there are several areas where the new standards fall short. For example, the new standards did not address kennel air quality which is so critical to respiratory and overall animal health. Additionally, the standards allow for types of flooring that can be uncomfortable or injurious to dogs’ feet, toes or nails. They also failed to mandate that outdoor enclosures be on safer solid, ground-level surfaces in order to prevent potential injury. Finally, the new standards do not include minimum sizes for outdoor enclosures and exercise areas. These should have been explicitly stated to insure the allotted spaces are truly sufficient for exercise. HSVMA commends the state Department of Agriculture for the positive changes that have been made, but we are joining with our Missouri veterinary members in urging that further improvements be made and that the new tax and per-animal adoption fee be waived for shelters and rescue groups.