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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Puppy mills in need of regulation

When I was a kid, I loved going to pet stores.

I would happily wander the aisles, petting puppies and kittens and admiring the less-cuddly animals — snakes, fish, turtles — from afar.

But we never purchased anything from these pet stores. Our dog Caspar came from a shelter, and our cats were a mix of strays and kittens born to friends. When I decided to acquire pets of my own, it never occurred to me to go to a pet store. I made some inquiries at work, and ended up with two kittens rescued from the streets of Birmingham, Ala. One of those cats recently died, and I’ve been considering going to a shelter to look for a kitten. With so many strays roaming around out there, it’s tough for me to justify going to a pet store.

But plenty of people do shop at pet stops and buy pets produced by breeders. And although some breeders are responsible, many aren’t. Some operate puppy mills — dirty, overcrowded commercial breeding facilities with a tendency to produce sickly animals.

Thanks to a new state law, municipalities now have the power to regulate pet dealers and crack down on breeders who raise animals in substandard conditions, such as puppy mills.

This week, The Gazette’s John Enger reported that Montgomery County will convene a special commission to draft legislation regulating pet breeders and dealers in the county. This decision comes not long after conditions at a local breeding kennel, Flat Creek Border Collies in Sprakers, sparked complaints from animal groups and activists from around the world.

When speaking to Enger, County Executive Matt Ossenfort described Flat Creek Border Collies as one small piece of the county’s “dirty little secret. ... I remember when I worked in [Assemblyman George Amedore’s] office. We were getting calls about puppy mills then, but we couldn’t do anything about it.”

I wrote about the breeder, Herbert Weich, in January, after officials seized his dogs and charged him with failing to provide adequate shelter for them. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on at Flat Creek, but I cautioned against overreacting based on complaints from people whose main familiarity with the case was via photographs on Facebook and social media. After all, state police and a veterinarian initially found no evidence of wrongdoing — why were people in Europe so convinced they knew better?

But a follow-up investigation revealed the activists were on to something: According to a veterinarian’s report, all 35 border collies seized from the Sprakers breeder earlier this month were infested with worms, and a majority were either underweight or suffering from open wounds. Weich was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly not giving his dogs enough food.

In other words, Weich does not appear to be a responsible breeder. His dogs do not appear to have been well-cared for, and the county was probably right to take them away.

Montgomery County officials seem to believe Flat Creek Border Collies is the tip of the iceberg — that other breeders are operating substandard facilities and the new state law will provide the tools to crack down on them.

And they’re probably right.

A 2013 report from the Humane Society of the United States suggests there is a need for the state law. The organization estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States and lists substandard dog-breeding operations in every state. The list, The Horrible Hundred, doesn’t include any facilities in the Capital Region, but it does describe six New York facilities that sound pretty horrible — that keep puppies on “dangerous wire floors,” house “emaciated and wounded dogs” and cut off puppies’ tails.

I don’t think you have to be a hardcore animal rights activist to think breeding operations that treat their animals as poorly as these places deserve to be shut down.

In a statement released after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the anti-puppy mill bill into law, the Humane Society said “New York’s lax laws have attracted some of the worst puppy millers, and dogs suffer in cruel conditions every day.”

It will be interesting to see whether other municipalities establish their own commissions to develop laws aimed at cracking down on bad breeders. My guess is many will; nobody wants to see dogs and cats live in squalor and misery, and the new state law gives counties, towns and cities the means with which to ensure they don’t.

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