Virginia Legislation to Curb Dog Breeders Passes Committee

Thanks to Roanoke.com for this article. Dog-breeding measure survives panel A plan to boost licensing and inspection requirements passed a House hurdle by a 9-8...

Joy  |  Feb 1st 2008


Thanks to Roanoke.com for this article.

Dog-breeding measure survives panel
A plan to boost licensing and inspection requirements passed a House hurdle by a 9-8 vote.
By Michael Sluss

RICHMOND — Commercial dog breeders would face new licensing, inspection and safety requirements under legislation designed to curb the excesses of unregulated “puppy mills” in Virginia.

The legislation, which barely cleared a House of Delegates committee on Wednesday, is partly driven by a 2007 fire at a Bland County kennel that killed nearly 200 dogs. A subsequent investigation by the Humane Society of the United States resulted in a scathing report detailing conditions and practices at several large dog-breeding operations in the state, including four in Southwest Virginia.

House Bill 538 establishes licensing, inspection and safety provisions and imposes limits on the number of adult dogs a breeding operation can maintain. The bill is sponsored by Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Caroline County.

Supporters of the legislation said it could go a long way toward addressing problems identified at some large kennel operations and ensuring that pet owners are getting healthy dogs. Detractors believe it would unfairly saddle legitimate breeders with extra, and unnecessary, layers of regulations.

The new requirements would apply to kennel operators who keep more than 20 female dogs for breeding purposes. Among other things, commercial breeders would be required to have a valid business license, cooperate with inspections by animal control officers, have an approved fire safety plan and keep no more than 50 adult dogs on the premises. Operators also would have to maintain accurate veterinary records for a five-year period. Violators would face a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail.

The Humane Society report decried a substantial, unregulated “puppy mill” industry in Virginia. The report claimed that many commercial puppy dealers operated in small, overcrowded kennels, back yards and basements.

“The problem we find is that often we don’t know these facilities exist,” said Teresa Dockery, director of the Margaret Mitchell Spay/Neuter Clinic in Bristol. “This provides a mechanism for animal control [officers] to go in and work with those operations before they become a facility like the one we found in Carroll County.”

Authorities last year found more than 1,100 puppies at a Carroll County breeding kennel, and Dockery assisted in rescuing dogs from that facility. She also helped with rescue and triage of dogs harmed in the March 2007 fire at Dogwood Kennels, an Amish-run kennel in Bland County.

Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman told the House committee that his deputies seized 115 puppies from a home in 2006 and kept them in a shelter for six months while conducting a criminal investigation. Newman said Orrock’s bill “may have prevented this by allowing our animal control people to go in and inspect the premises before it reached this point.”

Dog breeders and representatives of hunting organizations argued against the bill, saying it creates burdensome regulations and duplicates some inspection functions performed by the federal government. Legitimate dog-breeding businesses will suffer for the excesses of a few, said Bob Hale, who runs a kennel operation in Charles City County.

“They’re painting us all with the same brush,” Hale said.

Hale said he operates under a conditional use permit issued by the county, which must be renewed each year. He said his permit likely would be revoked if he ran a facility like those that were singled out by the Humane Society.

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