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Puppies don’t know politics, but politics knows puppies

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By Dr. Ernie Ward, Veterinarian

Nothing evokes warm feelings as much as babies, kittens, and puppies. I’d throw newborn foals and kids (as in baby goats) in there, but I grew up in the country. Because humans tend to universally love baby animals, you can imagine my anger with my current state government’s opposition to protecting puppies from inhumane conditions. The reason, it turns out, is good old-fashioned back-room politicking.

The first thing you need to know is that North Carolina is one of the only states that currently has no commercial dog breeding regulations. Neighboring states including West Virginia and Virginia, Tennessee and the previous puppy mill capital, Missouri, all enacted strict commercial dog breeding laws in 2009 and 2010. As these states cracked down on puppy mills, they moved to the safe haven called North Carolina. The NC Department of Agriculture currently estimates there are 200 to 250 commercial dog breeders in our state. Some are suitable; others are sickening.

The only thing protecting breeding animals in our great state is the Cruelty to Animals Statute 14-360. This law kicks in when there is evidence of “unjustifiable pain and suffering due to neglect.” The problem with using cruelty laws to regulate commercial dog breeding is that these laws were not written to address puppy mills. Complicating matters is the fact that there are many different interpretations of “unjustifiable pain and suffering.” As a practicing veterinarian involved with anti-puppy mill issues, I can tell you there’s a big difference between cruelty and what most folks would consider inhumane conditions. For our selfless law enforcement officers to bust a puppy mill, they’ve got to be able to prove intentional cruelty, not just dogs standing up to their elbows in feces. That’s often not enough to slap the cuffs on and shut down the operation. The bottom line is without some law, our officers have little legality to shut down a puppy mill. At this point any law is a step in the right direction for North Carolina.

The second thing you need to know is that the current “puppy mill bill” unanimously passed by the NC House last year is far from perfect. The bill lifted the exact wording from the American Kennel Club’s “Care and Condition of Dogs Policy.” Oddly, the AKC opposes the law that invokes its own standards. Other opponents say the bill needs to be stronger. I agree. These elected officials forget to tell people that two better, stronger, more detailed bills regulating puppy mills were soundly defeated during the 2009 to 2010 session. This is the third compromise bill we’ve had. It’s about time the breeding dogs and their puppies received our protection. I’m not willing to leave these animals defenseless any longer. We can’t kill good waiting on perfect.

If our elected leaders were truly concerned with this issue, I believe we would’ve seen some efforts in the time since 2010. Instead, the legislature has been strangely silent on the issue. Not a single word of legislation has emerged from Raleigh, despite there being two veterinarians in our Senate. Why can’t lawmakers throw these puppies a bone.

I’m holding out hope the current crop of state Senators will come to their senses and do the right thing when they reconvene in May. This bill requires no additional taxes or funding – two things I always look for in proposed laws. I can’t think of a good reason not to take this small step in the direction of protection. This is not a lot to ask.

Dr. Ernie Ward is a veterinarian, author, and America’s Pet Advocate. Go to DrErnieWard.com or email him at DrErnieWard@gmail.com.