Raleigh, N.C. — With first lady Ann McCrory watching from the gallery, state House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve North Carolina's first attempt to curb puppy mills.
House Bill 930 was not on the day's official calendar, but GOP leaders added it at the beginning of session.
The measure requires basic standards of care for dogs in facilities with more than 10 breeding females on site. It requires food and water, daily exercise, appropriate housing, veterinary care when needed and humane euthanasia when needed.
The bill was amended on the floor to close some loopholes.
In its current form, it does not apply to kennels or facilities in which "the majority" of the dogs are being bred or trained "primarily for hunting, sporting, field trials, or show," or "are being kept primarily for purposes other than the sale of offspring as pets."
Sponsor Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, called it a modest bill. He said it's the first proposal of its kind that agricultural and farming interests haven't lobbied against.
"It's been called 'watered-down.' It is. It's intentional so we can get passage, so we don’t invade agricultural interests," Saine said. "It simply addresses commercial breeders who mistreat their animals."
Several critics of the bill noted that the American Kennel Club actively opposes the bill, saying it doesn't go far enough and should apply to all dogs, not just those in large commercial breeding facilities.
Saine responded that expanding the bill would have killed it.
"We all are familiar with what we will endure if we take this too far," he said. "I’m not ready to throw out a good bill because certain interests don’t think it goes far enough."
Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret another bill sponsor, pointed out that the standards in the bill were taken from the AKC’s standards of care. "I’m not sure why they would object," she said.
McElraft said the bill doesn't require registration or regular inspections. Instead, it would be driven by complaints of mistreatment.
"This is a way that local law enforcement can get in there and do what they need to do," she said.
"I’m not a PETA person. I am not an animal extremist," McElraft said. "I do not say animals have rights, but when they are mistreated, we need to make sure they have the care they need."
"I am a PETA person – I’m a person that likes to eat tasty animals," responded Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow. "We are opening the door so, in the next session, we’ll have another puppy mill bill, and it’ll build on this one. I don’t think this is a good idea."
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said the care requirements are too ambiguous.
"'Exercise on a daily basis' – if I kick him across the floor, is that considered daily exercise?" said Speciale. “’Euthanasia performed humanely’– so should I choose the axe or the baseball bat?"
Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, a bill supporter, called Speciale's attempts at humor "disgusting" and "disrespectful."
Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said the changes would make it too expensive for new breeders to get into the business and said the measure is intended "to move us incrementally toward no ownership of animals, no hunting."
Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, disagreed. He said he and his wife have four rescue dogs at home.
"I’ve been told all my life that you can tell a lot about the character of a person by how they treat their animals," Jones said.
Despite the lengthy debate, the measure passed on a vote of 101-14. It now goes to the Senate.
House Speaker Thom Tillis thanked the first lady "for your work on this bill."
McCrory's visit was not announced in advance. The first lady rarely gets involved in legislative affairs, but she sent a letter to House lawmakers Wednesday night urging support for the bill.
After the vote, her office released the following statement:
“I applaud the House for passing House Bill 930 with resounding support. This legislation is a very important step in establishing basic standards of care for large commercial dog breeding facilities and helps ensure all dogs are treated humanely. I’m grateful for the leadership of the House in passing this bill and encourage the Senate to follow their lead to ensure the health and safety of all dogs in our state.”
The state's First Dog, a lab mix named Mo, is a rescue dog who was adopted by the McCrorys in Charlotte.