[This diary provides additional background and analysis of a story Christian Dem in NC covered last week.]
As the General Assembly prepares to adjourn, lobbyists for the North Carolina Pork Council, the NRA, the Farm Bureau, and N.C. Agribusiness have cause to celebrate. For a second year, they have staved off legislation that has nothing to do with pork, rifles, or hunting -- the bill they killed simply set minimum standards of care for commercial dog breeding operations, unregulated businesses commonly referred to by a name the industry hates, Puppy Mills.
Personally, I find that term a little too cute when what we are talking about is overbreeding so abusive that some dogs "actually had parts of their internal organs that were hanging out". These aren't puppy mills; they are Dog Farms.
I'm pissed that our lawmakers caved, and clearly, I'm not alone.
In February 2009, nearly 300 dogs were rescued from horrendous conditions at a commercial breeding operation in Wayne County, North Carolina. After viewing the scene, Wayne County state senator Don Davis, introduced legislation, S.B. 460, aimed at curbing these abusive practices by requiring registration and permitting inspection of such facilities.
"It was just a horrific sight," Davis recalls. "I saw some with fused eyeballs. I saw some missing a lot of their hair. I saw nails that were a result of no grooming piercing through the body and the skin."
Remarkable as it is, the only commercial dog breeders regulated by North Carolina's Animal Welfare Act are those that sell to pet stores or research facilities. N.C.G.S. 19A-23. Which means that anyone is free run a Dog Farm with hundreds of breeding females -- no license or registration required, and no oversight or inspections to be concerned about -- as long as he only sells dogs directly to public, e.g., over the internet, at flea markets, in parking lots, or really, anywhere else. This statement from the N.C. Department of Agriculture aptly describes the current state of affairs:
[T]he industry is unregulated, it is essentially hidden, making an accurate estimate of the number of breeders, at best, an educated guess.
Not surprisingly, the bill was supported by many groups with direct interests in animal welfare. Of course the Humane Society and NC Veterinary Medical Association backed the bill, but so did the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, whose county animal shelters will bear the costs of housing, feeding, and treating the rescues, and the North Carolina Sheriff's Association, whose officers had only the existing animal cruelty laws to rely on -- no tools for prevention or inspection, just after-the-fact prosecution, based on tips that don't come "until places get awful" and the dogs are already blind, crippled, or dead. The bill appealed even to consumers who were frequently duped by unregulated breeders who pass off mixed-breeds as purebreds or sick puppies as healthy pets.
Despite this broad-based support, despite agency characterization of the industry as "unregulated" and "hidden," and despite the fact that one abusive Dog Farm after another was uncovered in North Carolina while the bill was pending -- it still failed. And you can lay this all at the feet of the agribusiness lobby and the NRA. I'll let them explain their opposition, in their own words, starting with Pork Council lobbyist Angie Whitener.
"Our opposition is solely based on the proponent of the bill," Whitener said. "We're very worried about this powerful, very wealthy animal rights organization.
"Whitener said the bill was about more than just dogs. She said she believes the Humane Society's end goal is to eventually stop meat production for human consumption.
And why is the NRA involved? Well, because any oversight of commercial breeding operations = an end to hunting.
Anyone who cares about our hunting heritage, even those who do not use dogs in their activities, should be very concerned about S 460. You can be sure that HSUS does not intend to stop at just hurting hunters who use dogs.
There you have it -- the only thing missing is Glenn Beck's chalkboard.
The N.C. Pork Council, which represents a $2.2 billion industry, and whose PAC funded state candidates and political parties to the tune of at least $187,000 in 2008, is painting itself as the only thing that stands between North Carolinians, the all-powerful Humane Society, and government-imposed veganism. [Well, the Pork Council and the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation PAC, who contributed $222,150 during the same period.] And the NRA is protecting North Carolinians "hunting heritage" by opposing a bill, the Title of which expressly states, in ALL CAPS, I might add:
EXCLUDING KENNELS OR ESTABLISHMENTS OPERATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF BOARDING OR TRAINING HUNTING, SPORTING, HERDING, SHOW, OR WORKING DOGS.
So this is where we are in North Carolina -- a modest proposal to regulate a mostly hidden industry can be killed by lobbyists for groups that have nothing to do with dogs, one of whom has the arrogance, or stupidity, or both, to go on record in the State's largest newspaper declaring that the merits of the bill do not matter.
I said I'm pissed, but I'm not pessimistic. Through the grapevine, I understand that the e-mails and phone calls to legislators, the Department of Agriculture, [and even Ms. Whitener] are causing folks to sit up and take notice that this is an energizing issue that is not going away. So for you in NC, here's the scorecard, (at least on the Senate side).
And here are the Good Guys:
Davis -- Senator Davis really deserves credit. A first term Senator facing a tough re-election bid, and he has taken on this fight knowing that it may cost him his seat.
And for the rest of you -- PLEASE. Do not buy dogs. In North Carolina alone, we are euthanizing around a quarter of a million dogs and cats a year. Adopt from your local shelter.