Lawmakers target Pa. puppy mills

May 14, 2008 4:31:51 PM PDT
"Today is the beginning of the end for commercial puppy mills in Pennsylvania." That pledge came from State Representative James Casorio, a Westmoreland County democrat.

Pennsylvania's infamous breeding business was targeted today by a statehouse rally in Harrisburg.

The applause was for proposed legislation requiring commercial operators to provide basic sanitation, vet care and larger cages so dogs that are bred will have room to exercise.

Sarah Scott, from the U.S. Humane Society, says "right now, breeding stock might be stuck in a cage for five to seven years."

Rescuers claim after ten years confined to a small cage, one Sheltie could barely walk, and had absolutely no muscle tone.

Those who want change say puppy mills treat the dogs that produce the puppies like machines, and when worn out, they are cast off.

If breeding dogs make too much noise, rescuers claim breeders sever the dogs vocal cords, as was the case with Carly, a small dog at today's rally.

Deb Haney, operator of Tails To Tell, an organization devoted to saving dogs from commercial breeders, described the procedure as brutal.

Critics of puppy mills say what happened to Carly is legal, but inhumane and cruel. "She was the gentlest little dog ... a pitiful little thing when they handed her over to us," said Haney, of Mount Gretna.

With its current laws, Pennsylvania has been dubbed the puppy mill capital of the East. Today's message from those at today's rally is the time for change has come.

One of the bills would define a commercial kennel as one that sell dogs to dealers or pet shops or one that sells or transfers more than 60 dogs a year. It would double the minimum floor space for cages and require annual veterinary examinations and regular cage cleanings, among other things.

"If you're a breeder that doesn't give a dog adequate water every day, doesn't give it food free from toxins, and doesn't take the dog out of the cage to clean the cage ... we're coming after you today," said Rep. Casorio, the bills' sponsor.

Other measures would increase animal cruelty fines and require owners of seized dogs to pay the cost of keeping them in shelters.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who owns two rescued golden retrievers, has spent the past two years pushing for tougher enforcement of Pennsylvania's dog law.

His administration proposed broad regulatory changes last year to accomplish that goal, but abandoned the effort amid criticism that the projected cost of compliance - $5,000 to $20,000 per kennel - could put some breeders, kennels and animal shelters out of business.

Jessie Smith, the state's special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement, said the legislation would target about 650 large-scale commercial breeders, roughly one-fifth of the state's 2,771 licensed kennels.

"The only way to not do one-size-fits-all is to change the actual law," Smith said.

Kenneth Brandt, a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Professional Dog Breeders Association, which represents more than 300 breeders, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the legislation.