A renewed attempt will be made again this legislative session to strengthen Iowa’s ability to inspect and regulate large dog breeding facilities in the state, but with a scaled-down focus.
A proposed bill would give the state inspection authority over U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed facilities but also non-licensed facilities that provide animals for pet shops that sell six or more pets in a year.
Currently, the state and USDA work together on inspections, and the state has permit authority. But inspection authority rests with the USDA, and only USDA-licensed facilities are inspected.
A chief bill sponsor said supporters would remove some requirements in the bill that deal with cage sizes and flooring. They also are willing to create a special classification for purebred breeders, who would be called specialized breeders, in order to gain support from those breeders.
The special classification would exempt from the proposed state inspections specialized breeders who can produce veterinary records on an annual basis, state Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said in an IowaWatch interview.
It also would keep focus on the bill’s main target – large breeding facilities where repeated animal safety violations are found, or what commonly are known as puppy mills. “They can have anywhere from 50 to 1,000 adult dogs,” McCoy said.
McCoy said the facilities run by specialized breeders that he is willing to exempt from the bill are considered to be hobby breeders, with 10 to 15 dogs and producing perhaps one litter of puppies in a given year.
“They were, unfortunately in the last piece of legislation, unintentionally brought into the inspection process,” McCoy said. “And most of these folks are, you know, not creating any issues related to breeding.”
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Hillary Prim, public relations director for the AKC, declined IowaWatch requests for an interview, writing in an email, “The new bill hasn’t been introduced yet, so we can’t comment on it or speculate what might be in it.”
Prim also declined to comment on any meetings McCoy had with AKC members but forwarded a letter the organization wrote last year to the Iowa Senate in opposition to an earlier version of the current bill, SF 2166.
Writing on behalf of Iowa’s 64 dog clubs and other responsible breeders, the American Kennel Club argued that, among other issues it had with the proposal, the legislation would unfairly restrict raising quality, healthy purebred dogs and would prohibit members from being involved in animal rescues.
“That AKC family out there is a very strong, and very vocal advocates for the welfare of dogs,” McCoy said. “But they felt like they were being singled out. And so, my hope is that, with these changes in the legislation, that they will be supporters of this bill and that they can get behind this.”
Those favoring more Iowa control over dog breeding facilities seek it because of difficulties USDA Animal and Plant Health Services (APHIS) inspectors have had keeping up with inspections in the state.
“We’re one of the few states that does not have any state oversight of those USDA licensees and so that is what we are trying to pursue,” said Mary LaHay, president of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals and a lead catalyst for pushing for state inspection authority.
Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship jurisdiction over USDA-licensed facilities could allow Iowa to require improved standards of care at breeding facilities, plus the power to enforce those standards, LaHay said.
“As long as it is just the USDA inspecting them, the state can’t dictate anything more restrictive in terms of standards because the USDA is not required to enforce our state laws,” she said.
Sybil Soukup, executive director of the Humane Society of North Iowa, said, “People often ask me what is the difference between a breeder and a puppy mill. To me, a puppy mill is anyone who puts wealth over welfare. In Iowa, it is definitely a political issue.”
The legislative proposal would build on laws Iowa already has to protect animals in commercial establishments. Chapter 162 of the Iowa Code, for example, defines legal standards for animal care in pounds, animal shelters, kennels, breeding facilities and research facilities.
These facilities need a certificate of registration or, in the case of pet shops, kennels and commercial breeding facilities, a license to operate from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Action the state has taken against the worst animal health offenders has been through the revocation of permits to operate.
“We can go and investigate those places as far as whether it is a state licensed facility,” Dr. David Schmitt, Iowa’s state veterinarian, said. If “someone is doing something that causes adverse health or suffering, there is a provision for suspension, civil penalty, and continued education, as far as for actions,” he said.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is trying to gain support for the bill with three important groups of Iowans to which he belongs: the Iowa House, Republicans and farmers. Kaufmann said he sees opinion divided along lines other than Democratic and Republican party affiliations: farmers versus urban dwellers, legislative districts with breeders versus those without breeders, for example.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” Kaufmann said. “I think it’s just a regional issue.”
Kaufmann, entering his second two-year term, has been outspoken about animal welfare in his relatively short time in the House. He pushed a bill in the House that passed last year’s legislative session and which now is a law that lets judges include pets as a person’s property in protective orders. The move is seen as a way to assist with animals’ welfare. He also has called for tougher penalties against people who torture animals, a response to a case involved an Iowa City man accused of torturing a pet kitten in fall 2014.
“There’s typically a puppy mill bill in the Legislature each session,” Kaufmann said. He said good people who love the dogs they raise exist in Iowa. “But there are also people who would treat puppies rather poorly.”
Other provisions in the proposed bill would:
- Prohibit breeders from also operating, owning or having a controlling interest in an animal shelter;
- Establish a series of fees for breeders, animal shelters, pet stores, research facilities and others dealing with animals to support requirements in the proposal;
- Require pet stores to buy animals only from licensed breeding facilities;
- Require that breeding facilities produce the most recent USDA or state inspection report to anyone purchasing a dog from an inspected facility.
An IowaWatch review of APHIS inspection reports last year revealed that some inspections have been missed because a breeding facility operator was not available for the APHIS visit.
Iowa had 249 USDA Animal Care Breeder/Dealer licensed facilities going into 2015. Two APHIS inspectors are based to Iowa and three based in other states also make inspections in Iowa. APHIS has plans to add two more inspectors for Iowa, Lyndsay Cole, APHIS assistant director of public affairs, wrote in an email to IowaWatch. Additionally, Cole wrote, APHIS has one veterinary medical officer in Iowa and another available from out of state who is available for Iowa.
Previous IowaWatch reports have revealed that:
- Dog breeders in Iowa who repeatedly do not comply with the Animal Welfare Act are allowed to continue raising and breeding dogs – sometimes in horrible conditions – while federal inspectors give the cited breeders time to correct violations.
- It often takes multiple U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service noncompliance citations, issued for problems posing the most serious risk to an animal’s health during inspections, before the agency decides to enforce against the facilities it has identified as substandard.
- Although federal inspectors say they have increased their dog breeding facility inspections since a critical 2010 review of their efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had 120 inspectors to check some 7,300 licensed and registered animal breeding facilities, including 1,764 dog breeding facilities, in the United States at the end of 2014. That allowed them to inspect facilities once a year, on average, although more often at facilities cited for being out of compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
- The number of APHIS inspections nationally increased from 1,516 in fiscal 2010 to 2,606 the following year, according to USDA data IowaWatch obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request. They since have gone down, to 2,156 in fiscal 2012 and 1,882 in fiscal 2013, the last year for which complete data were available.
– SERIOUS VIOLATIONS OF ANIMAL WELFARE ACT DOES NOT MEAN QUICK REMOVAL OF ANIMALS FROM PUPPY MILLS
– HOW THINGS GOT OUT OF HAND AT ONE IOWA DOG BREEDER INSPECTION VISIT
– MORE DOG BREEDING INSPECTIONS IN U.S., BUT ONLY 120 INSPECTORS AVAILABLE IN THE COUNTRY.
An IowaWatch analysis of APHIS inspection data, from a public database on its website and covering Sept. 27, 2010, through May 30, 2014, revealed that 7 percent of dog breeding facility inspections during that time resulted in direct noncompliance citations. Of those, relatively few breeders’ USDA licenses were suspended, revoked or terminated, and few were fined for not complying with the Animal Welfare Act.
During that time APHIS inspected 6,840 USDA-licensed dog breeding facilities and cited 483 direct noncompliance issues that pose the most serious risk to the animal’s health. Only 24 breeders were cited for having four or more direct noncompliance issues. APHIS brought enforcement decisions on 16 USDA licensed dog breeders.