PPH Op-Ed on 2015 MFOA Puppy Mill bill

Portland Press Herald Maine Voices: How much is that doggie in the window being made to suffer?
Maine can take a moral stand against puppy and kitten mills by banning their sale in pet stores.

By Robert Fisk Jr. and Lynne Fracassi
Special to the Press Herald
Published March 2, 2015 

about the authors
Robert Fisk Jr. is president and director of the Falmouth-based Maine Friends of Animals, and Lynne Fracassi is founder of Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills.

When most people see that “puppy in the window” at a pet shop, they are unaware of where the animals came from and the conditions under which they suffered. Maine legislators are scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday on L.D. 335, An Act to Prohibit the Sale of Dogs and Cats in Pet Shops, to address the practice of Maine pet shops buying puppies and kittens from out-of-state “puppy mills.”
“Puppy mills” are large-scale commercial breeding facilities that sell dogs and cats to pet stores and buyers online, typically producing their animals in extremely inhumane conditions.

Pet shops want to obtain product at the lowest possible price to maximize profit. To accomplish this, the puppy mill operator will skimp on housing, food and veterinarian care to keep overhead down; it is cheaper to let a dog die than to provide proper medical care.

Female dogs are routinely bred at every heat cycle, about twice a year, for five or six years until they’re deemed useless and then discarded at a shelter or killed. The dog watches 10 to 12 litters taken from her and then disposed of.

In most of these facilities, there is little regard for the physical health and mental well-being of the animals. Dogs are often forced to live in filthy living conditions in wire-floored cages, causing injury to toes and feet, receiving little or no medical care.

They are typically exposed to the elements, suffer from lack of nutritious food or potable water, and have limited or no access to exercise or social interaction with humans.

Animals often arrive in Maine suffering from contagious parasites and transmittable diseases, as well as behavioral disorders. A pet shop in Scarborough closed after two state quarantines and the deaths of three puppies from parvovirus in 2013.

Wholesale dog and cat breeding and the shipment of live animals is regulated federally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the 1970 Animal Welfare Act. However, as this newspaper pointed out in a recent editorial, the law is poorly enforced because of a lack of funding and staffing, which the USDA readily admits.

Yet even with proper oversight lacking, violations of their minimum standards are routinely discovered. The USDA often grants the offenders multiple opportunities to correct the situation. Legal action is rare.

Obviously, Maine has no control over this industry in other states. What Maine can do is enact legislation to ban these animals from being sold here, and there is no reason not to. Maine offers many humane and safe options for the purchase of purebred dogs and cats to loving families: local animal shelters, reputable local breeders and breed-specific rescue groups.

This is not an anti-business bill. On the contrary: A business that does not make changes and adapt its business plan periodically is destined to failure at some point.

In this case, changing an outdated business model is very minimal and only affects four pet shops. The portion of the pet shop that was used for cages can be easily converted for expanded retail by offering a greater variety of products and/or products from more suppliers, and services like grooming or a vet clinic, making that portion of the business more comprehensive.

Many pet shops have found other profitable uses for the cage space while gaining favorable public relations. Pet shops in cities that have a ban, such as Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles, are now showcasing adoptable shelter animals and focusing sales efforts on expanded products and services instead of on sales of puppies and kittens raised in terribly inhumane conditions.

Maine has 76 registered pet shops, but only four sell dogs and cats – and only one sells a significant number. The sale of animals is only one source of income and can be replaced. Therefore, this legislation has no negative economic impact. A six-month transition period would allow for the small changes needed.

Critics have argued that if the bill would have so little impact, then what’s the need to pass legislation? Why not let the marketplace take its course?

That misses the point. If any responsible pet owner saw the abhorrent conditions of these commercial breeding facilities, they would think it criminal. By allowing Maine pet shops to sell these animals, we enable and support out-of-state puppy mills, thereby promoting the inhumane treatment of companion animals.

By passing this legislation, we can make a statement that Maine continues to take animal cruelty seriously and advocates for a more humane society. Please contact your legislator and ask him or her to support L.D. 335.



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