PARKERSBURG - New rules for commercial dog breeding operations provide another tool for cracking down on "puppy mills."
Senate Bill 437 went into effect in July. With this new legislation West Virginia joins more than 30 other states that have passed laws to crack down on illegal and unsanitary commercial breeding operations.
The new legislation requires anyone keeping more than 10 dogs for breeding to provide each dog with solid flooring, protection from the elements, adequate lighting, food, water, veterinary care and sanitary living conditions.
Maryann Hollis, executive director of the Humane Society of Parkersburg, holds one of the new additions to the shelter, a kitten that was brought in covered with fleas and suffering from malnutrition and is on the road to recovery. (Photo by Pamela Brust)
Commercial dog breeders must only breed dogs after receiving certification from their veterinarian that the dog is healthy and must post their license number in any sales advertisements including online ads.
Law enforcement and animal control officers will now have the ability to carry out two inspections annually without a warrant and there is a penalty for violation of the new law.
"We really want to prevent what happened five years ago at Whispering Oaks Kennel with 900 plus dogs. The state Legislature is responsible for this type of regulation. We've been down in front of the Legislature several times speaking on it. The new law will not only help the animals who are suffering, but there are financial and resource implications on the counties that have to deal with these puppy mill-type operations. They present health, environmental and safety issues and the new law will also help protect consumers purchasing these animals," said Maryann Hollis, executive director for the Humane Society of Parkersburg.
"At Whispering Oaks the fecal matter contained in the ground water was well above any acceptable standard. It is about the animals, but it's also about resources, the environment and the consumers," Hollis said.
The new law clearly defines what commercial breeding operation is, and it allows two inspections without a search warrant to assure compliance with the new law, Hollis said.
A commercial dog breeder, for purposes of the new law, is defined as anyone who maintains 11 or more unsterilized dogs over the age of one year for the exclusive purpose of actively breeding; is engaged in the business of breeding dogs as household pets for direct or indirect sale or for exchange in return for consideration.
The definition does not include keeping or breeding dogs exclusively for the purpose of herding or guarding livestock or farm animals; hunting, tracking or exhibiting in dog shows, performance events or field and obedience trials; and, with respect to greyhound dogs only, anyone who holds an occupational permit from, and has registered a greyhound kennel name with the West Virginia Racing Commission.
"It addresses basic care, regular vet care, assures female dogs are healthy enough to breed," she said. There are sheltering regulations relating to food, water, and housing, proper euthanizing.
"The new regulations also are trying to make sure the animals are as healthy as possible, not living in squalid conditions breeding disease, so it's protection for the consumer as well," Hollis said.
The regulations also allow county commissioners to impose an annual operating fee which cannot exceed $250 for a Class I commercial dog breeding operation, and up to $500 a year for a Class II facility.
If the commission authorizes a commercial dog breeder fee, the funds collected are to be deposited in a specially designated account to be used for animal shelters, animal rescue and spray/neuter programs administered by the county animal shelters or humane organizations.
Hollis said she plans to meet with the commissioners about the possibility of implementing the fee and also hopes to work on an educational campaigns regarding to proper care and the new law.
Violators of the new law can be convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine for each violation.
The bill also makes it unlawful for a commercial dog breeder to operate if he or she has been convicted of animal cruelty in any local, state or federal jurisdiction.
A circuit judge or magistrate may grant a person accused of violating the new provisions the option of imposing an improvement period of up to one year, with terms and conditions to be determined by the court. Upon successful completion of the improvement period the judge or magistrate shall dismiss the charges.
"With the law governing conditions and medical treatment and authority to inspect without a warrant it's is a huge step forward. This gives us a nice tool to be able to use, to fall back on," Hollis said, noting there are a number of responsible breeders who have safe, healthy facilities in the valley.
"They are probably already in compliance with the new regulations, and many will welcome the new law. When you have breeders who overbreed or sell sick puppies, it gives the whole industry a bad name, so the good breeders don't want to be lumped in with the bad breeders, so this helps lift everybody up," Hollis said of the new law.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, with enactment of SB 437, West Virginia became the 20th state to require commercial dog breeding facilities be licensed and inspected, the fourth state to prohibit the stacking of puppy mill cages and the seventh to prohibit painful wire floors at commercial dog breeding facilities. West Virginia was ranked 38th in the Humane Society of the United States' 2012 ranking of state animal protection laws.