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Despite Ruling, Group Vows to Keep Fighting "Puppy Mill" Law

A federal court in Austin has ruled to preserve a new law regulating cat and dog breeders. While animal rights groups are celebrating their victory, the animal owners' association that challenged the law is pledging to renew its fight.

By Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project
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A day after a federal court rejected its efforts to strike down new state regulations on cat and dog breeding, an animal owners' association representing more than 300 American Kennel Club groups is pledging a renewed fight against the law. Animal rights groups, in the meantime, are "very pleased" with the ruling and plan to continue to defend the regulations.

Responsible Pet Owners Alliance argues that the law, passed in 2011 and upheld by a federal judge Thursday, is overly vague and a “tool for harassment.” In October, it sued to overturn the legislation, arguing in part that it allowed inspectors to enter a breeder’s property without a warrant. It wrote that many alliance members would be “forced to close their operations as the cost of compliance will be too great to sustain their operations.”

The group is planning to propose an alternate bill while pursuing their challenge in a higher court.

Passed last session, the Dog & Cat Breeders Act targets what advocates call “puppy mills.” The law requires commercial cat and dog breeders to be licensed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations as well as provide minimum standards of care and submit to inspections. Otherwise, they have to pay fines.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Texas Humane Legislation Network filed an amicus brief in the case in support of the law. "We're very pleased with the judge's decision,” said Katie Jarl, the Texas state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “We're absolutely thrilled that for the first time in our state someone other than the breeders will have eyes on these dogs."

Jarl pointed to a raid in Giddings that removed 52 dogs held in conditions described as “overwhelming filth” as an example of the law’s success.

The new law "establishes very basic standards for breeders in Texas — humane housing, annual veterinary care and daily exercise to name a few," Cile Holloway, president of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, said in a statement. "It is tragic that any breeder would oppose providing such minimal care for their animals."

The bill, HB 1451, co-authored by 10 members of the House last session, faced criticism when Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law. The Sportsmen’s & Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance said the new law “regulates law abiding Texas citizens and hampers economic and business growth in order to promote the private agenda of heavily financed special interest groups.”

The law, which targets anyone who possesses more than 10 adult breedable female dogs or cats, went into effect in September.

Mary Beth Duerler, executive director of the Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, said the law has been tough for breeders who are doing nothing wrong. “The Legislature does not know what they passed,” she said.

“They're a vegan group. A lot of PETA types. That's the mentality we're up against,” she said of the Humane Society. “We're a reasonable voice on animal issues, and we hope the legislators will listen.”

Duerler accused animal rights groups of anonymously tipping inspectors from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations so that they can receive a $1,000 reward, even if the breeders they're targeting are doing nothing wrong.

“These breeders are then forced to ‘prove’ they are not required to be licensed and do not ‘possess’ more than 10 intact Female Dogs/Cats,” explained a flyer sent out by the alliance. “Isn’t this backwards?”

The flyer quotes Lori Teller, a veterinarian who resigned from the department’s Licensed Breeder Advisory Committee, as having stated, “I think we are driving good breeders out of business and sending bad breeders underground, where they will continue to crank out unhealthy animals and continue the cycle of neglect and abuse.”

The alliance advocates a new bill and said they are looking for a sponsor at the Legislature. Their proposal would shift administration of animal licensing to the Texas Department of Agriculture, because they argue that the current licensing department has “no animal expertise.” They want to define commercial breeders as businesses for whom breeding is a major source of income, rather than the current provision regarding the number of cats or dogs owned. They also want to eliminate the $1,000 reward for tips.

Jarl, at the Humane Society, said that the pet owners' group and others like it "don't want there to be any standards for the responsible care of dogs in commercial breeding facilities and that’s just not acceptable to Texas pet owners who want to protect dogs from cruelty and abuse.” She added that her group will confront any challenges to the new law, whether in a higher court or the Legislature. "We're not going to give up this law without a fight," she said.

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