Few recent pieces of Ohio legislation have caused as much outrage among animal rights activists as Senate Bill 331.
Sponsored by Senator Bob Petersen (R., Sabina), SB 331 proposes regulations—arguably, deregulations—regarding the sale of dogs from breeders to pet stores. The bill, supported by Petland, an Ohio-based private corporation boycotted by activists for doing business with puppy mills, has drawn opposition from activist groups, most notably the ASPCA, on the grounds that it enables irresponsible and careless breeders while endangering dogs.
Each year, the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” list identifies the worst puppy mills across the country, including specific violations such as improper cages and unchecked infections. Twelve of those 100 facilities are in Ohio, and our state is second in the number of facilities with severe violations.
SB 331 relaxes the regulations on how pet stores acquire animals, overriding local laws in many Ohio cities and municipalities, including Toledo. The Toledo Municipal Code mandates that pet stores acquire the dogs they offer for sale from a shelter, humane society, or other rescue facility.
The bill went into effect in March and overrides Toledo’s local laws, allowing sales from what the legislation loosely defines as “qualified breeders.” Activist groups argue that the bill will allow substandard conditions, unchecked abuse, and neglect, in an industry where those issues are already a major problem.
“When people purchase a pet from a breeder without first looking into their qualifications and investigating the breeding operation, they really don’t know what type of animal they are buying,” said Jessica LaValley, Annual Fund Manager for the Toledo Humane Society, noting that puppies from mills are easy to spot, as they are afraid of people, have a variety of medical issues from overbreeding and inbreeding, don’t receive proper vaccinations, and suffer from deformed paws, caused by standing on wire cage flooring.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Michigan-based pet store The Family Puppy opened a Toledo location in Franklin Park Mall in 2014, and has since faced numerous allegations over the last few years of poor practice from buyers, humane rights activists, and most recently, a former employee.
Casey Hasenfrantz, 26, worked for The Family Puppy until he publicly disagreed with the store’s practices on social media. He received considerable press for his outspoken views on the store:
“A majority of purebred dogs sold at puppy stores come from high-volume dog breeders, or puppy mills, that are set at a certain standard for their dogs to be certified,” Hasenfrantz said in a June 14 interview. “It’s essential that legislation for the regulation of proper breeding, housing and living standards will be enforced in the future,” he said.
The Family Puppy has a webpage dedicated to the “benefits of pet store puppies,” among which is the phrase, “Pet stores and breeders are the most regulated sources of pets.”
With the new legislation underway, it’s unclear whether that is now the case. The Family Puppy did not return requests for comment, but the company website describes their puppies as “USDA licensed and AKC inspected.”
Susan Robinson is the founder of Puppy Mill Awareness of Northwest Ohio, and is an outspoken advocate consumer education on bad puppy mill practices. A former teacher, she works to educate the public on the dangers of puppy mills, organizing countless protests, and petitioning state officials to enforce humane laws. “A lot of people don’t know that puppy mills exist, what they are, or what they do to these animals,” she said in a June 16 interview. Robinson also explained that the USDA mark of approval does not apply to small, at-home breeding operations. “[Family Puppy] says they have USDA approval on their dogs,” she said, “but that only means that they’re coming from a high-volume facility.”
Aside from the law, countless dog breeds will be predisposed to health conditions at no fault of the breeder, but rather due to centuries of selective breeding, even with the best of intentions and good breeding practices. Bulldogs are notorious for their susceptibility to breathing problems, golden retrievers suffer from chronic obesity, and toy breeds, like the Maltese, have a host of health risks that range from collapsed trachea to heart murmur. The tendency toward health problems in ‘purebred’ animals mean that veterinary care is imperative from birth. It’s a price to be paid when it comes to domesticating human’s best friend, and a carelessly crafted bill like SB 331 threatens the protective laws already in place.
Sheila Phillips owns Pigeon Hill Kennels in Toledo, and has been breeding Newfoundlands for seven years. Her puppies come with a full health guarantee regarding genetic issues for two years after placement. “[The dogs] live indoors with us, and are a part of our family,” she said in a June 17 interview. Phillips emphasized the importance of responsible breeding, including limiting the mother to one litter per year, and no breeding before the dog has had three heat cycles and is at least two years old. Several local breeders, including Pond Valley Labradors in Napoleon and Athena Sunshine Boxers in Toledo, did not respond to requests for comment.
State your qualifications
SB 331 puts dog breeders into two categories: “high-volume,” and “qualified.” ”High-volume,” breeders must possess an appropriate USDA license, produce nine or more litters per year, and sell 60 or more puppies or adult dogs per year. Under SB 331, if a breeder doesn’t meet those high-volume requirements, they appear to avoid most government oversight.
Here are a few notable issues included in SB 331:
- A breeder applicant no longer needs to include photographic evidence to renew a high-volume breeder license.
- The Controlling Board, which oversees the allocation of state funds, is no longer required to approve the release of money from the High Volume Breeder Kennel Control License Fund.
- The definition of a “qualified breeder” is more broadly defined as “a breeder that keeps, houses, and maintains female adult dogs and is not a high-volume breeder.”
If breeders are not classified as “high volume,” as long as the conditions of housing and shelter are met, other issues, such as lack of veterinarian care, infection, early death, and/or emotional neglect, will bring no consequence.
In fact, the bill specifies that none of the regulations are even applicable if the dog is purchased from the same place where it was bred and reared. And while the bill makes the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture responsible for defining and maintaining the new regulations and licensure requirements, there is no defined scheme for enforcement of those requirements.
Although the bill contains glaring problems, legislators made amendments to the bill, a tactic known as ‘logrolling’: tacking on unrelated issues to get enough votes to pass as law, allowing SB 331 to be passed in March.
As an example of some of the amendments that were ‘logrolled’ into the bill which provides less regulation of puppy mills, the law also a) broadens the definitions of animal fighting laws, b) condemns beastiality, c) grants telephone companies the right to install cellular technology to public structures, and d) bans localized minimum wage variations from the current $8.15 statewide minimum..
Accordingly, even if your local state senator disagrees with the parts of the law that override local restrictions on puppy mills, if they vote against the bill, they’re voting for the legality of beastiality. What a choice to make—and that’s logrolling at its finest.
Adoption is an answer, but buyers beware
The numbers are high when it comes to Midwestern kennel violations, but there are actually plenty of responsible breeders in and around Lucas County, many of whom have earned a green light from breeder-friendly organizations like the American Kennel Club. The AKC certification is generally seen as a mark of trust in the breeding world, but with the passing of SB 331, the certification can be rendered almost meaningless in lieu of turning a profit—a point that Hasenfrantz echoed: “[. . . ] People are under the impression that their dog has superior genetics or health since it might be bred from a ‘champion’ bloodline or something,” he said. “In reality, the guarantee means nothing and ensures no quality.”
In addition to what many see as a legislative faux pas, online puppy scams make for yet another obstacle to the breeding trade; fake photos are posted, puppies are paid for by an unsuspecting consumer, and the animals are never produced. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a statement in May regarding these scams, citing buyer warning signs like lack of in-person communication with the seller, lack of details about the dogs, and offers that are “too good to be true” in online postings (get the full statement at ohioattorneygeneral.gov).
And though many laws already exist in an effort to prevent abusive conditions for animals, unfortunately, SB 331 does not look to be a helpful addition to the cause. So what can we do about it?
“Education is key,” LaValley said. “If a person chooses to purchase an animal from a breeder, they should first do their due diligence and look into the breeding operation—visit the facility, meet the animals, ask for medical records[. . .] by adopting, people are saving lives, not purchasing them.”
Read more about SB 331 at legislature.ohio.gov.