Long ago and far away, when crop yields were low and the American farmer was struggling to make ends meet, a government organization looked for a way to help them out. The government agency was the USDA. Their solution? Encourage farmers to raise a variety of livestock that could then be turned into a cash crop and allow them to thrive.
The “livestock” the USDA encouraged them to sell were dogs, cute and cuddly, little purebred puppies that could be sold to an ever-growing American middle class, who had begun to see the dog as a part of the American dream (a house, a fence, two kids and a dog).
What we couldn’t know then, but know now, is that this industry would grow and spread across the United States, and it would increase in scope and size and numbers. It would become a burgeoning industry that made farmers money and would feed an ever-growing American need for a dog – a purebred dog, a designer dog, an -orki and an -oodle, and every other kind of combination of dog possible.
Farmers, including the Amish, benefitted from this cash crop in tough times. They found this type of farming appealing and one that could supplement their incomes and help their families. To them, dogs really were livestock. They were just like cattle or sheep, only smaller and cheaper to raise. They could be kept in cages and bred and their offspring could be sold to pet stores across the country. The adults could be harvested for their pups, and when too old to produce, could be sent off to the slaughterhouse, much like a dairy cow, only in their case the slaughterhouse was out back of the mill, the one in which they had lived for their whole life.
For years, the argument has been made that dogs raised in puppy mills are livestock, not pets. They are bred for one purpose, profit, and thus should not be afforded the same kind of care as a dog raised in home. Viewing puppy mill dogs as livestock and not as companion animals, allowed farmers (a.k.a. puppy millers) to argue that they should be treated the same as a farmer raising beef cattle. It allowed them to argue that additional regulations should not apply to them since it did not apply to farmers who raised cows and sheep.
And this argument has worked, for a very long time (and continues to do so, if you live in Missouri).
But in Minnesota, there is reason for hope. There is reason to believe that this argument (that puppy mill dogs are livestock) may be changing.
Recently, a dog breeder, Dayna Bell, was convicted for animal cruelty. And this year, she tried to make the argument that her breeding stock of dogs were not companion animals or pets, but in essence “livestock,” and thus she was not subject to the state statutes that were used to convict her of felony animal cruelty.
Unfortunately for her, the Minnesota State Court of Appeals disagreed.
You can read the full background and history on the case against and the conviction of Dayna Bell and the recent Minnesota State Court of Appeals opinion on the Animal Folks MN site, but here is an excerpt from the court papers.
“….Under Bell’s interpretation, so long as her subjective “enjoyment” of a dog at her kennel amounts to use of the animal as a vessel for conceiving, birthing, and rearing puppies that would be sold as pets, the breeding dog would not qualify as a “pet or companion animal” under Minn. Stat. Sec. 343.20. We presume that the legislature does not intend results that are a “absurd, impossible of execution, or unreasonable.” Minn. Stat. 645.17(1)(2012). Just as a farm cat that is kept in a barn to kill mice or a hunting dog that is used to retrieve game can still be a pet, some of Bell’s dogs may have served incidental roles that imparted some economic benefit. But these animals continue to qualify as pet or companion animals under Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd. 6. In every objective sense, the dogs and puppies that Bell “enjoyed” at her kennel were small-breed, household dogs raised to be and treated as domesticated pets, and Bell sold many of them as pets. Each of these dogs, colloquially referred to as “man’s best friend,” qualifies as a pet or companion animal under the non-exhaustive definition of Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd.6, which is sufficiently definite such that “ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited.” State v. Newstrom, 371 N. W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1985) (quotation omitted).”
Puppy mill dogs are not livestock. They are pets and companion animals, and yes, man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
Do they look like livestock to you?
On Friday, I was alerted to this Action Alert from the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS):
PLEASE ASK USDA TO ENFORCE THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACTSeptember 30, 2014 – In a stunning setback in their efforts to increase enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), USDA has suddenly reversed course and decided to, once again, tolerate substandard conditions at puppy mills.Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA’s chief of enforcement for the AWA, recently told animal advocates that the USDA needs “to enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores” and citing violations is an impediment to such sales…..Shockingly, USDA has made the decision to help substandard breeders circumvent these ordinances and to continue to sell puppies in spite of continuing violations.
I found myself at complete odds. The idealistic activist side of me wanted to scream in outrage at what appears to be a setback in the fight against puppy mills, while the veteran, and somewhat jaded, side of me could only sigh and shake my head in resignation.
If you have any knowledge, understanding or experience with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), then you know this is simply par for the course for them. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say they are probably one of the worst agencies in the federal government.
Whether it be the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and for inspecting puppy mills, or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, the USDA seems to excel in their inability to perform their job.
In 2010, the Office of Inspector General issued their latest audit (one of many) of APHIS and their performance as it came to enforcing the Animal Welfare Act with commercial breeders. The results, while not surprising, were damning.
They found the following deficiencies:
- The Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers -The agency believed compliance could be enforced through education and cooperation and thus took little or no enforcement action against most commercial dog and cat breeders
- Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions – inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations and did not take pictures or document properly. As a result, some problematic puppy mill dealers were inspected less frequently and in many cases got off easily.
- APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. In other words, puppy millers received minimal penalties a majority of the time.
- APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators – Inspectors misused its guidelines so that violators would be penalized more lightly than warranted, even for repeat offenders with serious violations.
- Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet. (This was recently changed, but given their past history, I doubt it will be enforced or treated any differently than today.)
- Did Not Adequately Establish Payment Plans for Stipulations – Payment plans for violators were not adequately established so they rarely paid, and if they failed to pay, there was no process in place to follow up. (What a joke.)
- Enforcement Policies Do Not Deter Repeat Violators
- Some Inspectors Performed Insufficient Post-Mortem and Sanitation Inspections
- Swine HIMP Pilot Program Lacks Sufficient Oversight (HIMP = HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for swine.
- FSIS Could Not Always Ensure Humane Handling at Swine Slaughter Plants
Or look at the Office of Inspector General’s report on Verifying Credentials of Veterinarians Employed or Accredited by USDA or the Office of Inspector General’s report on FSIS and their E. Coli testing on boxed beef or numerous other reports related to APHIS or FSIS.
Yes. The USDA’s supervision of animals (in puppy mills and/or other animal facilities) is a complete and utter failure and has been for a very long time. Maybe that is why I am not surprised by this most recent setback. The truth is this is not a setback at all. It is simply a new iteration of what they have always done – let the violators go free, unchecked, with little chance of ever having to face charges for their violations. Same dance, different dance hall. If anyone thinks the USDA or APHIS is going to start enforcing the law now, then they are sadly mistaken. They haven’t been doing so for years.
I don’t discourage from contacting Secretary Tom Vilsack, as CAPS requests, just that you not expect much from this agency. This is just the same dance in a different dance hall.
You can contact Secretary Tom Vilsack at AgSec@usda.gov or leave a message at (202) 720-3631.
Maybe the best plan of attack is to take the middle guy out and just take the fight to your own local town and city governments. The more you support ordinances and laws that outlaw the sale of pets in pet stores in your community the less power the USDA has to influence anything. Let’s take the fight where it is most effective. Lead the charge locally and eliminate the need for the USDA at all.
Today, September 1st, is Labor Day. This day, the first Monday in September, was set aside by Congress and President Grover Cleveland after the federal marshals and the Army killed 30 striking Pullman workers in 1894. This day is meant to recognize the American worker, and their contributions to our country. It’s not something we recognize much anymore, but it is a day we should all remember.
For many of us, Labor Day signals the end of summer and beginning of students heading back to school. It is a day we barbecue and have picnics or make our way back from vacation. Here in Minnesota, it is also your last chance to visit the state fair and enjoy a pronto pup or some fried cheese curds or a fresh, hand-squeezed lemonade. It’s a day to be with family and friends.
It may seem odd that dogs would somehow fit into this day, but in searching the internet I found a few Labor Day events that celebrate dogs:
- Alabama: In the Key Underwood Coon Dog Graveyard , residents get together to celebrate the loyal lives of coon dogs long passed.
- Washington DC: The annual Day of the Dog is held in the Congressional Cemetery and includes activities for both pets and their owners.
- Ohio: In Cleveland, patrons can join the Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest and enjoy the wiener dog races.
- New York: Labor Day also signals the beginning of long walks with your dog on a beach. In many cities, like Fire Island, New York, dogs are banned from beaches from spring to Labor Day. Bur after Labor Day, dogs and their owners can walk the shoreline in relative peace.
Here at Casa del Mel we will be celebrating the day with a walk at our local dog park and relaxing with each other. What do you and your pooch have planned for today?
Yesterday, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), a lobby group for pet stores, puppy millers and pet product makers, announced they had hired the former head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Ed Sayres to lead their group.
Shocking? Yes, but maybe not as much as we would like to think. After all, Ed left the ASPCA under less than positive circumstances. He and the board were in disagreement over several things, among them Ed’s half a million dollar salary and which legislative battles to pursue. And if one close to the situation is to be believed, there was also a battle going on over focusing more on animal welfare than fundraising. I’ll let you guess where Ed fell on this disagreement.
The decision to hire an industry insider who may have the ASPCA playbook is no accident. The puppy mill industry is running scared. They know that the tide has been turning, and not in their favor. Cities, towns and counties are taking action where national and state legislators have failed. They are banning the sale of cats and dogs and requiring pet stores to follow the rules, move or close down. If the puppy mill industry hopes to have any chance of turning things around they have to act now. Their hope is that Ed Sayres will be their savior.
The question is… can they turn back the tide? Can they stop social media from continuing to educate the average consumer about pet stores and puppy mills? Can they stop local grassroots organizations from working with their city, county and other local officials to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs in their towns and cities? Can they ever encourage the average consumer to buy a puppy mill dog once they have seen what a puppy mill parent goes through? Can they get people to un-see what they have already seen or forget what they already know?
It will be some time before we know if Ed will be the savior PIJAC hopes he will be, but my bet is on you, the average consumers and pet lover.
You and I, we care about our pets. We care where they came from and the conditions they were raised in. We want to make a difference. We believe in fighting for those who have no voice. We also believe puppy mills need to go. We may not win every legislative battle, but if we change people’s minds, and their spending habits, then we still win. Ed or no Ed.
Want to learn more about this story?
On Thursday, a friend emailed me to see if I wanted to join her for a walk to go see some puppies on my lunch hour. My Scooby senses tingled. Puppies? Ummmm….YES!!!!
She sent me this article (“Downtown workers take a break to pet puppies.”)talking about the event held the week before and the one my friend and I were planning to attend that day. Dog trainer, Jody Karow from Dog Sense Unleashed, and the staff and foster moms and dads from Safe Hands Rescue, were working together to give workers the chance to escape the workday stress and hang out with some rescue dogs.
It was quite the event. So many people stopped by just to have the chance to meet the dog and cuddle with a puppy. I was happy to reconnect with Jody and get the chance to meet some really great dogs. Here are just a few of the pictures I took of the gathering and the people and dogs we met. Make sure you check out Safe Hands’ video (below) of the fun had by all who came to Peavey Plaza. It will give you a smile.
I was kind of going to take a pass on a blog post today, but then, a friend sent me this… Tevlin: Rain or sleet can’t stop your mail, but a tiny dog can (Star Tribune, dated June 25, 2014, by Jon Tevlin). Seriously. I’m not even kidding.
Here is a quick synopsis of the story:
- 11 lb dog gets loose from its leash while out on a walk.
- 11 lb dog runs to mail carrier and jumps up on her and barks.
- Owner apologizes profusely and gathers dog up (one added detail) and she apologizes profusely.
- The mail carrier does not react or say anything to the owner.
- Next day, Minneapolis Animal Control visits owner and reports mail carrier claims she was bitten on inner thigh and has several puncture wounds.
- Mail carrier claims to have gone to Urgent Care for treatment, but no photos can be provided.
- Owner agrees to get dog trained and to keep her on a short leash and to keep dog inside when mail is delivered.
- Next day, mail delivery is stopped for the entire building where the owner and dog reside.
- Post office manager notifies residents that they can either get a P.O. box or get rid of Nano (the dog).
- Post office manager refuses to respond to resident’s calls to discuss the issue.
- Now owner must move out or euthanize her dog. (Her agreement with Animal Control forbids her from giving the dog away.)
I can think of all kinds of cuss words I could use to describe how I am feeling about this story, but really, all I can think of is “Where the hell is the adult in this story?” I mean I read this and all I can see is a lot of miscommunication, lack of communication and just plain old poor communication. I don’t see a whole lot of negotiation or reasonable boundary setting. I don’t even see proof of the actual bite being shared.
So here is what I would love to do today. Instead of posting this story and having a bunch of people angry people post negative and hateful comments on my blog, I would love to have you, the reader, offer ideas of how this could have been handled differently. How would you have handled this if you were one of the adults in this story?
Feel free to rewrite it in a way that you think it could have gone if people had communicated effectively. How could it have been handled in a way that was better for all involved? What would you have done if you were any one of the parties involved in this situation?
I really look forward to hearing your ideas.