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Montgomery County plans panel on puppy mills

Stricter laws sought on pet breeding, selling

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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— Seized dogs and an animal abuse charge drew a lot of attention to the Flat Creek Border Collie breeding kennel in Sprakers recently, but Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said that operation is just one small piece of what he called the county’s “dirty little secret.”

“I remember when I worked in [Assemblyman George Amedore’s] office,” he said. “We were getting calls about puppy mills then, but we couldn’t do anything about it.”

The Flat Creek issue started late last year when Eric Bellows, a local dog lover, noticed scores of dogs living outside in communal pens on the property of kennel owner Herbert Weich with only modified plastic barrels for shelter. Since then, the case has attracted international attention via social media, landed Weich with a misdemeanor charge for allegedly not giving his dogs enough food and caused the removal of a vast majority of his roughly 60 original dogs.

Some Montgomery County officials believe there are plenty more large and possibly inhumane breeding kennels in the area. While the criminal case against Weich stretches out into lengthy court procedures, Montgomery County’s weeks-old Legislature is working on some swifter action to prevent future Flat Creek situations.

“In the next two weeks, we’ll be rolling out a special commission,” Ossenfort said, “a group of veterinarians, law enforcement, Farm Bureau representatives and a few others.”

The commission, he said, will draft legislation regulating pet breeders and dealers within the county.

On Jan. 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law allowing municipalities to draft their own more stringent breeding and pet-dealing laws.

Ossenfort has the power to start commissions, but District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond had the original idea.

“Right now there are a lot of gray areas in animal laws,” Dimond said.

Police were unable to take immediate action in Weich’s case, in part because of those gray areas. The veterinarian brought in early in the investigation found no abuse or neglect. Dimond suggested that error was a matter of definition.

“The current [Agriculture and Markets law] says there has to be shelter,” he said. “I want to define exactly what that shelter needs to be.”

Following the passage of any new county law, Dimond said, the commission will stay on, responding to any future complaints. The idea is swift action. When the police took days to charge Weich, Bellows sparked a social media outcry by posting photos of the skinny Flat Creek collies to Facebook, along with phone numbers for state police investigators and others involved in the case.

District Attorney Jed Conboy said his office received 300 phone calls from people all over the country within days of Bellows’ post.

Dimond also hopes to lock down a county-wide moratorium preventing any large new breeding kennels from starting up. Dimond is basing his legislation on a similar moratorium passed this summer in the town of Canajoharie.

Such a moratorium, Dimond hopes, will stall a worrying trend he’s noticed. Over the past few years, several large, inhumane breeding kennels have popped up and been dealt with in the county, he said. One case in Canajoharie inspired that town’s moratorium. There were other alleged cases of abuse or neglect: a barn in the town of Root, crowded with pit bulls; and Flat Creek.

“But all those puppy mills were on the main roads,” he said. “If you’ve ever been to this side of the county, there are a lot of back roads. I think we just scraped the surface of the problem.”

While Ossenfort looks for a speedy commission roll out, the criminal case against Weich likely will take many months to resolve.

Weich appeared briefly in the town of Root Court on Monday night. Town Justice Tom Eriksen originally intended to arraign Weich on the Agriculture and Markets Law criminal misdemeanor he was charged with last month, but adjourned the hearing to give Weich time to talk to his lawyer.

He’s due back in court March, 10. Eriksen said the case could take months more to reach trial or a plea.

“I’ve had two of these sorts of animal cases before,” he said. “They tend to stretch out.”

 
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