Altered puppy-mill bill awaits Senate attention

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

The founder of a nonprofit that aids animal causes in Brunswick County says a last-minute amendment has significantly watered down efforts to regulate puppy mills in North Carolina.

Janie Withers, founder and director of Paws-Ability, a nonprofit that raises funds for animal issues in the county, says N.C. House Bill 930 approved last week had already been watered down, then an amendment was added that diluted it even more.

“With a bill this weak, maybe even the North Carolina Senate will vote for it,” Withers said last week.

State Rep. Frank Iler of Southport (R-Brunswick) voted in favor of the bill May 9 in Raleigh. The bill has to be approved by the state Senate before it can become law.

“I think they listened to the sporting dog, hunting dog and agricultural folks, so this is a bill that everybody can support,” Iler said Monday.

The bill is intended to improve standards for dogs at an estimated 200 commercial breeding facilities statewide.

The measure, publicly supported by N.C. First Lady Ann McCrory, would require anyone owning 10 or more breeding female dogs to provide basic care, including daily exercise, access to fresh food and water and veterinary and preventive care. The measure would also require a suitable enclosure and bedding, protection from weather and solid flooring for dogs.

An added amendment states the measure does not apply to kennels or boarding facilities where a majority of dogs are being bred or trained primarily for hunting, sporting, field trials or show or are being kept mainly for purposes “other than the sale of offspring as pets.”

Withers said House members should be ashamed of themselves “for the pitiful excuse of a bill,” combined with the “last-minute” amendment.

She said the bill has to clear three Senate committees before it can be heard in the Senate.

“It can’t possibly clear before it’s expired,” she said, deeming North Carolina a primary state for puppy-mill breeders because of its lack of regulations.

State Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport, who is also a veterinarian, could not be reached for comment.

Betty Christl of Shallotte, who breeds Japanese chin dogs, favors regulations.

“I could not believe how bad it was for animals [in Brunswick County],” Christl said last week.

Legitimate breeders like herself already screen potential buyers and want proof of proper veterinary care and a spay-neuter contract before they sell a puppy, she said.

“Anybody who loves a puppy doesn’t want to see it end up in the pound,” said Christl, who plans to speak at the next Paws-Ability monthly meeting from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at Ocean Isle Beach Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

Withers said legitimate breeders are responsible and are not “backyard breeders” like some situations she has seen and some dogs she has rescued and rehabbed in Brunswick County.

Puppies that live in cramped, filthy conditions or under steps outside, that are fed food poured on the ground to be “gobbled along with the dirt,” and that are sold before they’re old enough don’t come from responsible breeders, Withers said.

Withers said the word “humane” doesn’t exist in “eastern rural North Carolina.” She said owners of hunting dogs also resent regulations and turn out en masse whenever the issue arises.

In the meantime, she said, taxpayers continue to foot the massive costs of running the shelter and euthanizing thousands of unwanted animals annually, many of them the result of irresponsible care, neglect and breeding or being discarded after they’re no longer of use to their former owners. And groups like Rescue Animals Community Effort (RACE) continue to rescue poorly cared for dogs and puppies that have come from irresponsible breeders and owners, Withers said.

She said taxpayers ought to be concerned, because it affects them in the pocketbook.

“It costs four dollars and something to kill an animal in Charlotte,” Withers said. “It costs $8.32 to kill an animal in Brunswick County. What the hell is the difference? Where’s the money going? Why were we killing 90 percent of the animals that entered Brunswick County Animal Shelter?”

While improvements have been made in the past year since the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office took over running the shelter, there is still a lack of affordable spaying and neutering and regulating of people who are contributing to the problems, Withers said.

Last year, Charlotte Magazine reported rescue groups and shelters in North Carolina spent nearly half a million dollars cleaning up puppy mills and providing veterinary care, in addition to taxpayer costs and time and effort by law enforcement for raids and investigations.

When a new spay-neuter clinic opens this summer in the Winnabow area, it will make a huge change in the face of Brunswick County, Withers said. She said they’re also pursuing grants that will help with efforts to create a healthier pet population.

Despite hurdles still to be crossed in the law-making realm, Withers said Brunswick County is on its way to making headlines in North Carolina “because we are moving where no other county is moving,” she said. “And we’re doing it because of cooperative efforts with the private sector, government, rescue groups, animal advocates and taxpayers.”


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.