A bill will likely be introduced in the next couple weeks that will impose regulations on commercial dog breeders that sell directly to the public. The bill is part of a growing effort to put a stop to puppy mills in North Carolina. Groups, such as the American Kennel Club, and the North Carolina Federation of Dog Owners believe the legislation may affect responsible dog owners in a negative way.
The North Carolina Director of the U.S. Humane Society, Kim Alboum, described the raid she went on last year at a home in Jones County that was reportedly housing and selling dogs in abusive conditions.
"The dogs were living in wet feces, and there was improper drainage, so the stench was just horrific. I've been to a lot of puppy mills before but you could smell the Jones County puppy mill as you were coming down the road."
A puppy mill was defined by a 1984 court case as a large dog breeding operation that holds little or no regard for the animal's well being in order to minimize cost and maximize profit. Alboum says the humane society has logged or been directly involved in 12 puppy mill busts in the state in the past two years. You may have seen a billboard on highway 70 on your way into Kinston. It's a tip line where people can call in with information about suspected puppy mills. It offers five thousand dollars for tips that lead to a successful bust. The humane society also has an online petition set up at protectourpuppies.com. So far, it has 10000 signatures.
State Director of the Humane Society, Kim Alboum, believes North Carolina has become a puppy mill state. One of the problems though is that they don't know exactly how many puppy mills there are or where they are because most of them operate under the radar. Also, in North Carolina there are no laws regulating commercial dog breeders that sell directly to the public. Director of the Animal Welfare section at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Dr. Lee Hunter, says right now they inspect public and private shelters, boarding kennels, and some pet stores.
"At this time the state of North Carolina does not have oversight of commercial breeders, the General Assembly has looked at it in previous years, but, to date, nothing has been enacted."
Hunter says there is not a definition in our state laws of what a commercial breeder is.
There is contention about more regulations. According to a report on pilotonline, the N.C. Pork Council is worried about dog breeding regulations impeding on the animal to food industry. Most of the other disagreement comes from groups that represent animal owners such as The North Carolina Federation of Dog Owners. President, Peter Lunding, says their chief interest is the responsible dog breeder or owner.
"Any time you have a regulatory scheme then all of a sudden you're subjecting people to inspection by inspectors who may or may not know what to look for. And then a lot of regulations or proposed legislation proposes to have commercial facilities that you have to meet certain criteria for commercial facilities. For instance you have to have a separate building and it has to be commercial building with a concrete floor, and it has to be a monolithic pour because you can't have cracks in the concrete because germs may develop in cracks."
Lunding believes in stricter prosecution and consequences for animal crimes. And he believes the local government is responsible for problems of abuse or neglect. Lunding goes further in pointing out the ambiguity of the term puppy mill.
"Puppy mill is a bad term because it doesn't really define what the issue is. If someone is abusing their dogs, it doesn't matter if they have 2 dogs, or 20 dogs, or 100 dogs, they're abusing the dogs and they should be prosecuted under the existing laws."
He thinks the burdens of commercial dog breeding regulations would eliminate what he calls the hobby breeder, people who breed a few litters every year or even every other year.
According to Alboum, and the humane society, the bill would help bridge the gap between animal care standards and commercial dog breeding.
"It would require them to register with the Department of Agriculture, and then it would require them to maintain minimum standards at their facilities. Standards such as daily food and water, safe housing, housing that's large enough for the animals to move around in. There are standards for those that keep dog inside and outside."
The penalties for animal abuse or neglect are classified as misdemeanors, and rarely end in jail time. For example, In the Jones County Case the owners of the puppy mill were initially brought up on 61 counts of animal cruelty. In the time between their court proceeding, the appeal they made, and the final charge, they were convicted guilty of 19 counts of animal cruelty. Their jail sentence was suspended. They were placed on five years of supervised probation and cannot own or come into contact with animals during that time. Also, at any time, without a warrant, Jones County Sheriff's office animal investigator, Tom Lubuda, could go into their house if he felt it necessary. Lubuda says animal crimes, like puppy mills, can go unnoticed because there are not many animal investigators in the state's local law enforcement. That, and animal control services are not responsible for seeking out instances of animal cruelty. He says that almost all of the 87 dogs from the puppy mill in Jones County found homes.
I asked him how they investigate animal crimes.
"Normally it's by complaint unless I happen to see it in front of me without information I can't, you know, it's always based on a complaint, and investigating the complaints, we then determine whether a crime has been committed."
Lubuda says he's trained his deputies to look out for potential cases of animal abuse. He says when it comes to regulations the federal government is responsible, but enforcement is up to the local government, and perhaps more importantly, the citizens of that county.