Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Animal Law: A Different Perspective~~~by Theresa Donnelly

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’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.  
Theresa Donnelly
Secretary, Boxer Club of Hawaii


  1. Theresa asked - How is licensing a breeding business any different than licensing personal trainers, or running a family restaurant?

    Breeding is a passion without a profit motive. Profit motive is a key point for any business. Even the IRS recognizes a need for a profit motive for a true trade or business. That for me is a huge difference!

    Theresa asks - If not, what can communities do to combat pet overpopulation?

    Wow, if prices are so high what makes you think there is a pet overpopulation issue? Generally market forces would dictate a low price based upon the excess availability you elude to. Unless the overpopulation is from mixed breeds, then perhaps you have an owner education problem.

    I have a real problem with the unannounced inspections and lack of due process you advocate. You are talking about my house and my personal property. This is the United States, with a Constitution that grants me rights and protections. I am not ready to surrender those right at this time.

  2. Theresa and I have had this conversation privately a few times now, so I'm sure she knows what I'm about to say here. I'll try to keep it brief. :)

    Theresa mentions that Hawaii's law requires a search warrant and probable cause before an Animal Control Officer can enter a dog breeder's property -- as if that's a bad thing. I agree with Bill here; protection from unwarranted search and seizure is a basic right granted in the US Constitution and not one that should be trampled on lightly. Obtaining a warrant is a quick process that does not include giving the breeder notice -- if the situation is cleaned up between the complaint and the warrant, then it obviously was temporary and can't have been a horrid situation in any case.

    Theresa ask how licensing a breeding business is any different than licensing personal trainers, or running a family restaurant. That's a good question, and I'd like to hear her answer to it. Are personal trainers limited to a certain number of clients? A family restaurants only allowed to serve a certain number of guests, or own a certain number of pots? Breeder restriction bills are not about animal welfare -- often they are more lenient than existing welfare standards. They're about limiting the number of dogs a breeder can own, regardless of how the dogs are bred, kept, an cared for. (If these bills were about welfare, they would also apply to shelters and rescues; after all, those dogs deserve to be well cared for, don't they?)

  3. Theresa asks about cases where "good breeders" lost their animals due to bad laws or overzealous ACOs. I invite her to read about Bob Attleson, whose doors were rammed in and dogs seized not because of any welfare concerns, but because in the past Bob, who participates in breed rescue, was occasionally cited for being over the dog limit (on days he pulled rescue dogs from a shelter, or when a rescue dog came to him grooming). What makes this more unbelievable is that ACO had done a walk-through of the home the day before and noticed no violations; that they knew Bob would be out of town at a dog show the day of the raid and waited until he was gone to "serve the warrant"; and that they knew Bob was moving out of town the next week. (It's also a little astounding that a raid of four adult dogs and six nine-week-old puppies required four police cars, two animal control trucks, six uniformed police officers and two animal control officials.)

    Or, the case of Wendy Willard, Master of the Murder Hollow Basset Hound pack. Due to an anonymous noise complaint -- the first in 22 years -- ACO officers arrived with seven trucks and two police cars and demanded that Ms. Willard surrender 11 of the 23 hounds in her pack -- three of which did not belong to her, but were "on loan" from other packs -- claiming she was over the limit of 12 dogs allowed in residential dwellings (although the hounds were kept in a kennel not attached to the house). The law states that the penalty for a first violation of being over the limit is a minimum fine of $100 -- nothing about seizure. The surrendered dogs were sterilized -- one died as a result of a botched operation -- and sold before any charges were even filed. Basset rescue groups, other hound packs, and the owners of three of the surrendered dogs were stonewalled and unable to obtain information on the dogs, much less the dogs themselves. All charges against Willard were eventually dropped. (read from the bottom up)

  4. Or consider respected AKC judges Mimi Winkler and James Deppen, whose kennel was raided because some of the dogs (Bichon Frise) had mats and gravel dust in their coats -- not uncommon in long-haired dogs due to be bathed, and none of the dogs had any underlying skin issues associated with long-term matting. Charges were also filed for a Neapolitan Mastiff with exposed haws -- normal for the breed -- and for a dead dog that was killed when the ACOs left the fence open after the raid. The trail exposed numerous instances of lying on behalf of the ACOs, including photos of "unsanitary conditions" that could not possibly have been taken at the kennel property and "abused dogs" identified by microchip numbers that belonged either to dogs that had died in the past or that belonged to someone other than the two defendants. All charges, except that of operating an unlicensed kennel, were dropped and the records expunged -- but after considerable heartache and expense, not to mention the effect on the judges' reputations.

    Finally, the case of Jean Cyhanick, who was convicted of animal cruelty and can never again sell a dog in the state of Virginia because two of her dogs had healed eye ulcers and five had tartar on their teeth. I realize this sounds like a scare-mongering over-simplification, but sadly it's not. In the state of Virginia, you are required to provide *emergency* veterinary treatment for any disease that may progress. Since tartar is progressive, and since Jean obtained regular veterinary care rather than emergency veterinary card, she was found guilty of animal cruelty. Her appeal is pending. While no doubt some will feel she deserved to lose her dogs and her livelihood because she has a moderate number of bitches and does not breed show dogs, the precedents set in this case can be used against any breeder in the state. How many breeders do you know whose dogs, especially the older ones, have a bit of tartar on their teeth?

    These are only a few examples, the most public and most well-documented. There are others, the Eclat Standard Poodles, the "pit bull" owner in South Dakota (who is now suing animal control and an animal rights group) for illegal search and seizure, the rescuer who admitted to being overwhelmed and asked for help and was subsequently dragged through the mud. If Theresa is no longer on the Pet-Law list, I suggest she return to it as these types of cases frequently are discussed there.