Animal-rights groups are saying that standards of care for dogs and cats by licensed breeders, which Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation commissioners approved this week, do not go far enough.
In a 5-1 vote, commissioners adopted the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act, rather than the more stringent requirements proposed by an advisory committee whose creation was required by the state’s new “puppy mill” law.
"We’re really disappointed in the outcome," said Nicole Paquette, the Texas state director of the Humane Society of the United States. "Essentially what is now in rule is the epitome of a puppy mill. We as Texans should do better for our animals than that."
Asked about the criticism from animal-rights groups, Susan Stanford, the licensing department’s public information officer, said only that there were no previous regulations in place. She said that all rules adopted by commissioners are periodically reviewed and could be changed if deemed necessary.
The commissioners’ vote Tuesday came 10 months after the Legislature’s passage of the so-called puppy mill bill, which required licensing department commissioners to set standards for licensed breeders — anyone breeding 20 or more dogs or cats, or 11 unspayed female dogs or cats. The standards adopted by the commission will go into effect May 1. Any dog or cat breeder, as defined by the law, will be required to have a license by Sept. 1.
The commission did not adopt requirements — advocated by animal rights groups and recommended by the advisory committee — to double cage sizes and provide at least 50 percent solid flooring in primary enclosures. Animal-rights groups say wire flooring is painful to dogs and cats.
Animal rights groups had also pushed for a prohibition on cages being stacked, arguing it is unsanitary for the animals in cages below, but this was neither proposed by the advisory committee nor adopted by the commission. The commission’s standards allow for stacking cages as long as "an impervious barrier designed to prevent the transfer of fluid or animal waste separates the two primary enclosures."
Skip Trimble, legislative chairman for the Texas Humane Legislation Network, criticized the standards as not living up to the legislative intent, which he said was to strengthen federal standards. The bill said that the commission must adopt standards that "at a minimum, meet federal regulations."
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, one of the leading opponents of the legislative measure, complimented commissioners.
"I’m certainly glad that the push by some to go beyond the bill was stopped and [commissioners] kept with the language of the bill, which I think limited the standards based on the USDA standards," he said.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the author of the puppy mill legislation, could not be reached for comment.
The American Kennel Club, in a statement on its website, commended "the many concerned responsible dog owners and breeders who participated in the rulemaking process and helped ensure that the initial rules did not become unnecessarily onerous."
The law required the establishment of a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations to licensing department commissioners. The committee was supposed to have two members from animal welfare organizations and two licensed breeders. Paul O’Neill, a member of the advisory committee and an animal control officer in Midland, said the committee had made compromises in putting together its recommendations, with some members wanting to go even further than what the commissioners ultimately rejected.
Texas moved up the latest state rankings of animal protection laws released in January by the Humane Society of the United States, in part due to the 2011 puppy mill bill. The HSUS is one of the animal welfare groups that fought for tougher standards for the care of dogs and cats by licensed breeders.