I read Jennifer Walker’s position on animal legislation in the ABC newsletter, and I am writing to express my respectful disagreement on a few key points. While not all laws are well written, many states like Hawaii need stronger laws so law enforcement can effectively prosecute people who mistreat animals. Before Hawaii updated their animal cruelty statute in June 2010 with the pet confinement bill, there were cases in which authorities were aware that a breeder was raising animals in substandard conditions, but the law was so weak they could only issue a warning.
So the blanket comment about enforcing "existing laws" is just not accurate for every state and I wonder if Jennifer would have the same thoughts if she interviewed animal control officers and other folks who work in law enforcement in every state, as I have done here in Hawaii. The unannounced inspections for puppy mills are a critical part of licensing breeders. Without these inspections, you must get a warrant and have probable cause to enter the property. This gives bad breeders plenty of time to clean up. And, without a strong pet confinement bill, the breeders get away with being unscrupulous. How is licensing a breeding business any different than licensing personal trainers, or running a family restaurant?
Another advantage to having breeders licensed is the fact that in order to advertise, perhaps they could be required to have a number, like a contractor. Then, a public education campaign could center on encouraging the public to only purchase animals from licensed breeders. And I don't think this should only cover large-scale breeders. In Hawaii, I have seen that the “backyard” breeders are the largest contributors to putting out sick puppies in substandard conditions. There is also no oversight of animals in pet stores or shelters. It is entirely a complaint-driven process for animal welfare violations.
My biggest sticking point with AKC and other national breed organizations is that they oppose all new laws, yet offer no solutions to combat pet overpopulation on the enforcement side. Education is only one part of the issue. Breeding is very profitable in Hawaii, as animals shipped in must go through strict quarantine, so pet-quality litters can go for thousands. Before people make broad-brush generalizations on the status of animal legislation, I would like to hear more about these cases where ethical breeders lost their animals due to bad laws or overzealous animal control divisions. I don't see that here, or in my research elsewhere. If people want better, stronger, enforceable laws, we all have to sit at the law-drafting table and have a voice. All I have seen from the AKC is opposition. The Hawaiian Humane Society even complained to the American Kennel Club about our recent Waimanalo puppy mill case and no action was taken. It's sad too, because AKC has a lot of great community education programs. I realize that AKC may only have a handful of inspectors, but where is the information on what those inspectors are doing, or their efforts to wipe out AKC puppy mills?
Breeders provide the public a service, and if I was breeding regularly, I would have no problems opening my home during regular business hours for inspection and paying a fee (which could go toward animal welfare enforcement). As for witch hunts, and “catching breeders” at a bad time, I don’t buy it. Animal control is swamped as it is, they are not out to get the breeders who do things right. That is not what I have seen personally, or by extensively studying this issue.
Another point on existing laws...it’s not just writing more laws. It’s making sure our animal control divisions are staffed and funded to handle the degree of enforcement needed to hold people accountable. Before we all jump to conclusions that all states have everything they need to hold bad breeders accountable, my recommendation is that folks talk to animal control, the police department, game warden, etc, and find out what it is they need to be more effective. I think it’s the right mix of public education and accountability. Do the bills that go before our legislatures need to be rewritten so they don't say things like "an animal requires unfettered access to the outdoors"? Yes, they do. But, this is where breeders and animal control must be sitting at the same table, making all of our states safer for all animals (not just cats and dogs). And, we must ask the right questions - do these organizations have the funding to carry out their mission? If not, what can communities do to combat pet overpopulation? How can we reduce pet euthanasia? This is not a shelter issue. It’s our problem. Euthanasia is a hard reality, but I lived in a third-world nation, where diseased, mangy animals roamed the streets. That is the unfortunate alternative.
I hope all Boxer clubs are taking an active role in making our states better for animals. In fact, many clubs do, as I hear about their involvement with Boxer rescue all the time. The Boxer Club of Hawaii not only has members testifying on animal bills, but we assist with providing referrals for fosters for puppy farm dogs, with education on all aspects of pet care, and we closely follow all animal welfare news. We also encourage our members to take an active role in many animal nonprofits.
I agree with Jennifer – reputable breeders are the experts on the breed. They should get their message out and work hand-in-hand with rescue and other organizations to enact positive, meaningful change.
Secretary, Boxer Club of Hawaii