Monday could very well be the day that our Minnesota State Governor signs the Dog and Cat Breeder bill into law. Even if it does not happen today or tomorrow, it will be signed into law soon, and that is amazing in and of itself. It has taken close to ten years of hard work to make this happen. From those who did the heavy lifting (you know who you are) to those who called their legislators and rallied at the capitol and committed the time and effort to get us here, you have my (and Daisy and Cupcake and Maggie’s) thanks and gratitude.
So what happens with this bill and when does it begin?
- Dog and cat breeders operating in the state of Minnesota will be required to be licensed, regardless of whether or not they are a USDA breeder. The licensing process will begin in July. (This means those who sell over the internet can no longer drop their USDA license and think they are safe from scrutiny. It also means that we will have a more accurate data on the breeders that operate in our state.)
- The Minnesota Board of Animal Health will now have the authority to inspect commercial dog and cat breeding facilities and enforce existing State laws to ensure animal care standards are met and they will be funded to do so. (This can begin as soon as licenses start coming in or they can start next year, June 30th, the deadline for breeder licenses to be submitted.)
- The state will also have the ability to apply civil, administrative and criminal penalties for those who violate the law.
I have no doubt that many breeders will be thinking about whether or not they want to stay in business. For those who do not, there will be the issue of closing down their business. I expect we will see more animals coming into shelters and rescues. We must be ready for them.
For those who stay in business, it will be an adjustment. They will need to pay a license fee, establish and maintain a written protocol for disease control and prevention, euthanasia, and veterinary care of their animals, and identify all known owners of the business. They also must make any USDA violations available to state inspectors, report whether they have ever been convicted of animal cruelty in the past, and subject themselves to an annual inspections. In other words, they will face more scrutiny than ever before.
Change is coming to Minnesota breeders. They only question is how successful will it be? I guess that is dependent on the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and us. Our vigilance will be required. There are those who will gladly look for ways to weaken this law.
My personal hope is that people like Deborah Beatrice Rowell will find it harder to do business like they did before. She owns the puppy mill that Maggie came from and is back in business today. If this law makes it hard enough to make her quit, then that would truly be a blessing, especially for the dogs like Maggie, who have not yet escaped.
A couple of months ago, I met a wonderful animal advocate named Dana Fedman, after she left a comment on my blog. Dana is a CPDT-KA dog trainer from the great state of Iowa, but she is also actively involved in fighting puppy mills, Breed-Specific Legislation and other animal advocacy issues in her state. I was so fascinated by Dana and her motivation to get actively involved in some of the issues that I feel so strongly about, especially puppy mill legislation, that I asked her for an interview. Below, is that interview in its entirety. My hope is that by sharing Dan’s story and how she got involved in being an advocate for animals, it might motivate others (like you) to get involved too. (Please note: This interview occurred on 2011. I am posting it now – in March 2012 – as part of my puppy mill series.)
I chose to share this interview with you this week because I am hoping it will motivate you to contact your state legislator or to sign the petition asking state legislators to pass the MN Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill. Looking to do more? Here are some ideas on how to get involved with the Breeder regulation Bill in Minnesota.
My thanks to Dana for being so willing to answer my many questions about what she does.
1. You have been involved in the work to change the Iowa law regarding enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act for USDA licensed kennels. How did you first get started?
I took some instruction on lobbying from our local shelter a few years ago but had never worked up the gumption to actually go to the State Capitol and personally speak to my representatives. My involvement in the past was limited to writing e-mails or faxes and making phone calls, leaving messages at the switchboard, and whenever possible telling my senator or representative about my perspective on how these laws affect companion animals and the people who purchase pets from high-volume commercial breeders.
2. What motivated you to first get involved?
Seeing firsthand the heartache and financial loss experienced by hapless consumers of factory-farmed dogs.
3. Were you nervous about getting involved? And, if so, how did you overcome it?
As a former radio announcer, it’s not difficult for me to write or speak in public. The way to overcome your fear of that is to focus on writing to or talking to one friendly person while at the same time remembering that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time! What is difficult for me is knowing all the angles of the issue so that potential objections are answered early in the conversation and to restrict what I say to bullet points.
4. What surprised you once you did get involved?
How little difference there is between politics in adult life and life on the grade school playground.
5. As an animal advocate in Iowa, what are some of the things you have done to try to influence your state representatives?
I’ve worked up to speaking directly to my legislators by volunteering for our open-access shelter. Through that experience I’ve learned how things work regarding companion animals in Iowa, and it’s not pretty.
I’ve worked with the shelter’s leadership to change Des Moines’ breed-specific ordinance and lay groundwork for State “puppy lemon laws.”
I’ve spoken at Des Moines City Council meetings on several non-animal issues the last few years, one that affected a real estate development in my neighborhood that would have literally crushed the streets and storm water infrastructure. We fought City Hall and won!
During the work on BSL, I gave them a presentation on dog bite statistics and how our City’s Animal Control was spending more time impounding “vicious by breed” dogs who weren’t running at large or biting people than dealing with actual animal control!
After volunteering as a trainer at that shelter for quite a few years, I used other skills by helping to write new model dangerous/vicious dog ordinances that are now used in our region, but sadly, not in Des Moines.
A few years ago, I had a phone conversation with a high-level staff member of an influential (on Senate ag and ag appropriations committees) senator about proposed changes to the federal Animal Welfare Act as it applies to puppy factories and what the outcome is for consumers.
When there is an animal welfare issue that needs phone calls, faxes or e-mails, I am on a list of grassroots contacts to phone, fax or write legislators at a moment’s notice.
There was a Lobby Day and Iowa Voters for Companion Animals put out a plea for people to come to the Capitol and talk to legislators about the “Ag-Gag Bill.” I finally decided to try it and actually go there and talk to my legislators face-to-face. This is a bill making it illegal to photograph, take video or sound recordings inside an animal facility or any other agricultural business, or to possess photographs, video or sound recordings of the same. The bill also proposes to make it illegal to take a job at an agricultural business under false pretenses with the purpose of “staging” animal abuse only to photograph, video and/or sound record and selectively edit it, thereby damaging and interrupting the business to fundraise for animal rights groups thereby dismantling the entire agricultural industry. Uh-huh. I’m serious.
I talked to my Senator about this bill that had already passed the House. I’d called and e-mailed him many times on this issue. He was responsive, but felt that there was a difference between livestock and companion animal agriculture and that the Ag-Gag bill would not affect dog breeders. My senator could not tell me how this bill excluded puppy factories and I was not satisfied with that answer.
I went to the Representative who introduced the Ag-Gag bill and talked to her for almost an hour. She had recently spoken at the Iowa Pet Breeders Association’s annual conference. This is the commercial high-volume dog breeder’s trade group. She had her eyes opened to what a “puppy mill” is. I came down hard on her for introducing the Ag-Gag bill. She insisted that employees and managers of agribusiness should be the only ones to report mistreatment of animals in these facilities to authorities.
She did provide me with an answer about the reason puppy factories were excluded from the Ag-Gag bill: this category of commercial breeders were never included in the definition of “animal facility” within the bill. Therefore, they would not need to be excluded. Even so, there are usually other livestock on the premises of these breeding facilities that would be included in the Ag-Gag bill. (Did you get all that? I know.)
6. What has been your greatest challenge in trying to change your state’s laws? Your greatest frustration?
With the Ag-Gag Bill, my greatest frustrations are: 1) the unwillingness of the livestock producers and their trade associations to stop protecting their bad actors; and, 2) big ag controls more than I ever imagined.
7. What advice would you have for anyone interested in becoming involved in working to change the animal welfare laws in their own state?
Please, please become involved in your local shelter as either a donor or a volunteer. Foster homes are desperately needed. Supplies are needed. Educate yourself on animal neglect and cruelty issues in your state.
Encourage friends and family how to recognize a puppy mill (www.pupquest.org). Avoid buying dogs from the newspaper, pet stores (unless they are adopting out homeless pets), the internet, or a website where you are not allowed to see where the animals are kept or meet the parents.
Find out if dogfighting and cockfighting are common in your state. Are they felonies?
Check into breed-specific ordinances brewing in your city.
8. What’s up next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m waiting for the next Legislative session to start. The Ag-Gag bill did not make it to the Senate floor last session. The Legislature had to work overtime for two months on a two-year budget and a $5.9 billion spending plan. Ag-Gag will undoubtedly spit up on the calendar sometime during the upcoming session starting January 9. If I’m needed, I’ll call, e-mail, fax or go down there and squeak up!
(Blogger’s Note: Sadly, the Ag-Gag bill did indeed pass in Iowa just a few weeks ago. I wrote about this news just recently, but I encourage you to check out the impacts this bill will have on animal advocacy in the The Gazette.
Call, e-mail, write a letter – it doesn’t matter which (Heck, do all three!) but it is important that you let your legislators know that you want them to pay attention to and support this bill. Don’t know who your state representative and senator are? Go HERE.
The 2011 Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill (S.F. 462/H.F. 702) will provide:
• Licensing — Require commercial dog and cat breeders in Minnesota to be licensed
• Inspections and Enforcement — Give the Minnesota Board of Animal Health the authority to inspect
commercial dog and cat
breeding facilities and enforce existing State laws to ensure the health and safety of dogs and cats.
• Penalties — Impose civil, administrative and criminal penalties for those who violate the law
Both the Senate (S.F. 462) and House (H.F. 702) bill are what is called companion bills. This means, when first introduced, the bill language for each is identical. As the bills move through the process, the language for each may change through amendments — depending on what Senators or Representatives want.
Have more questions? You can go here to learn more.
You can also watch the debate (link below) over the legislation that appeared on Fox 9 News on March 2nd.