In December 2012, Ohio passed Senate Bill 130 to finally address the much needed regulation of the state’s commercial dog breeding facilities, commonly referred to as puppy mills. Unfortunately, the legislation did not include standards of care for the dogs in these large-scale facilities. Instead, S.B. 130 called upon the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to develop standards of care that focused on housing, nutrition, exercise, and other important needs to ensure that dogs are adequately cared for. After spending much of 2013 developing these standards of care, the new regulations have been finalized and went into effect on October 10.
While the ASPCA supports the ODA’s efforts to incorporate meaningful regulations to oversee commercial dog breeders in the state of Ohio, such as the requirement for an annual vet exam, the final regulations leave too much discretion in the hands of ODA inspectors who are too few in number to adequately inspect the hundreds of large-scale breeders across the state. Having standards that spell out the specific requirements for large-scale breeders in this state is necessary – for the breeders to understand the expectations, for the inspectors to consistently enforce the standards, and for the breeding dogs who too often suffer their entire lives in inhumane conditions.
To sufficiently address the proper care of animals housed in these facilities, the standards of care ideally should have included not only an annual hands-on veterinary exam, but a dental exam as well. Why? Because many puppy mill dogs suffer from severe dental disease and struggle to eat or drink, causing malnutrition, dehydration and starvation. The ASPCA believes that the language of the regulations should clearly spell out the criteria to ensure that important standards of care are met, including providing hands-on, annual, vet exams that include dental exams, as well as requiring housing facilities that provide protection from injury, extreme temperatures.
Lastly, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed breeders are given a temporary exemption from these regulations, meaning that they do not have to come into compliance with these regulations until December 2016. USDA standards fall far short of what the ASPCA – and the general public –consider humane. According to a recent poll, 71 percent of Americans are confident that commercial dog breeders licensed by the USDA treat their dogs humanely. However, the public’s definition of humane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding facilities differs in many ways from what is legally required under the federal Animal Welfare Act, which is enforced by the USDA. For instance, 90% of those polled believe that dogs should be allowed outside at least once a day, but USDA licensed breeders can legally keep their dogs indoors at all times, never letting them see the light of day or feel fresh air on their faces.
Low standards, coupled with lax enforcement by the federal agency makes it critically important for Ohio to step in and regulate these entities, rather than giving them a lengthy phase-in period. Additionally, since many of the standards adopted by the state of Ohio are the same or similar to federal standards, a phase-in period is of no benefit since most such facilities are already required to be in compliance with many of the new state standards.
The ASPCA plans to continue working with the ODA as these regulations are implemented, with the hope of increasing protections and improving the lives of the thousands of dogs currently living in Ohio’s commercial dog breeding facilities.
For more information on the ASPCA, or to join the Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org.