Despite the views of a vocal contingent of animal welfare advocates, a bill laying out minimum standards of care for dog breeders in North Carolina — passed in the N.C. House in May 2013 — stagnated in the state Senate and will likely not pass as it is currently written, Sen. Brent Jackson said.
Haley Cooper, born and raised in Salemburg and a volunteer with the U.S. Humane Society, brought House Bill 930 up for discussion during a recent town forum. During the last legislative session, the N.C. House passed the bill, which provides minimum standards and regulations for puppy mills in the state, with bi-partisan support.
Local legislator Rep. Larry Bell (D-Sampson) voted in favor of the bill, while Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen), another local legislator, was not in attendance for the vote. The bill was then referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee for review.
“Despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, the Senate committee woefully set aside the bill and did nothing to it for the remainder of the legislative session this past summer,” Cooper said.
She noted that Jackson (R-Sampson) was the co-chair of the committee.
“In just the past five years, there have been 18 puppy mill busts within the state of North Carolina, with more than 1,600 dogs saved from these deplorable conditions,” Cooper said. “One of the puppy mill busts occurred right here in Sampson County last February (at Royal Acres Kennel). There is overwhelming bipartisan support for this bill and the governor and first lady are strong supporters of this bill.”
She said she did not think it was too much to ask dog breeders to provide basic food and water, regular exercise and routine veterinary care for their dogs and puppies.
“As a concerned citizen whose passionate about the protection of animals in North Carolina, I would like this issue to be addressed,” said Cooper.
Jackson said the bill was sitting in the Senate Ag Committee, and would likely stay there. Cooper made good points but there was simply not enough teeth in the bill.
“The Senate made two promises before we ever went into session in 2013. As a group we decided there were two issues we would not entertain. One was a sports fishing bill and the other one was the puppy mill. We lived up to our promise that we would not vote on those two bills,” the senator said.
Jackson said he was unsure if the matter would come up during the Senate’s upcoming short session.
“There is some effort being made to strengthen this bill to make it a really good bill,” the senator said. “If we move on this bill, we want it to have some teeth in it where it will actually do the animal some good.”
Cooper said the bill, aimed at commercial breeders with 10 or more female dogs, was a good start
“It would give law enforcement a step in the door to check things out,” Cooper remarked. “If this regulation was passed, there would be inspections of certain breeding facilities.”
Faison resident Nancy Gump noted that within the last few years, West Virginia, Virgina and Tennessee have adopted similar standards for basic minimum care for puppy mills. Those states ran them off, leading to the establishment of some mills in North Carolina, specifically Sampson County, she noted.
“We’re looking for minimum standards, access to exercise, fresh water, to not be standing on chicken wire the whole day,” said Gump. “Let’s start with this. Our county right now is inundated, with how many Animal Control officers they have and with the (amount) of calls.”
The U.S. Humane Society and the ASPCA are in full support of the bill, said Cooper, who reiterated “resounding support” in the N.C. House in passing the bill.
“The House and the Senate don’t always agree,” Jackson said.
In May 2013, First Lady Ann McCrory applauded the N.C. House for passing House Bill 930 with resounding support.
“This legislation is a very important step in establishing basic standards of care for large commercial dog breeding facilities and helps ensure all dogs are treated humanely,” she stated then. “I’m grateful for the leadership of the House in passing this bill and encourage the Senate to follow their lead to ensure the health and safety of all dogs in our state.”
Jackson said he does not believe that Senate approval will happen as the bill is currently written.
The senator recognized that the governor and first lady were “very passionate” about House Bill 930, but noted the bill does not come without its hang-ups.
“There are a lot of things that 930 does, but there is a lot it doesn’t do,” said Jackson. “It’s about the welfare of the animals. We’re fortunate to have two veterinarians in the Senate, and they despise this bill, because the bill actually does nothing to protect the welfare of the dogs. But, with that being said, we are reviewing it and we have had meetings to discuss this. It is my personal opinion, House Bill 930 will not move as it is currently written.”
He noted that the American Kennel Club is adamantly opposed to the bill.
In a statement last year, the AKC, experts in the breeding, caring and maintaining of dogs for more than 128 years, said they were pleased sponsors and humane organizations supporting HB 930 agree that the AKC Care and Conditions of Dogs Policy offers the best standards for all dogs and are using them as the basis for this bill.
“But we are puzzled why HB 930, a so-called ‘law enforcement tool’ to prevent cruelty only applies to ‘large commercial dog breeders’ which are defined in the bill as those who own 10 or more breeding females,” the AKC statement read. “AKC believes that all cruelty statutes should cover all dogs from one dog to 100.”
Jackson said the bill does not protect all dogs and, additionally, cats are not addressed at all in the proposed regulations.
“You have to start somewhere,” Cooper said. “It is about the dogs who are living in these deplorable conditions that are being bred over and over again until death and producing these cute little puppies — but no one gets to see their mom and dad that are injured, sick, neglected and malnourished. If we had regulations, we could better supervise that.”
Jackson said those regulations needed to be broadened and enhanced.
“House Bill 930 does nothing to benefit the dog,” said Jackson.
Ronnie Jackson, president of the Sampson County Friends of Agriculture, pointed to a larger issue at stake. He said the local Ag group had a meeting on the issue of puppy mills and related legislation, as well as the Humane Society’s involvement locally.
“I know these people have good intentions, but if they just stop there that would be one thing,” said Jackson. “The stated aim of the Humane Society long term — this has proven out at a lot of places around the country — is to do away with animal agriculture, and you know what that will do to Sampson County.”
He said something like a puppy mill bill could balloon into something much larger, that could affect local livelihoods.
“If the livestock business went away down here, you would see tumbleweeds blowing in the street,” he said. “This is the long-term goal of the Humane Society. The puppy mill thing sounds good and I’m sure if you run it around north or south Raleigh everybody votes for it, but they don’t know the long-term implications of it.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.