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'Puppy mill' bill likely dead for this year

Posted July 29, 2014 1:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2014 2:28 p.m. EDT

— A proposal to regulate large commercial dog breeders appears to be dead for the year, doomed once again by opposition from state Senate leaders. 

The House passed legislation in 2013 that would require large breeding operations, or "puppy mills," to meet basic standards of animal welfare, sanitation and humane treatment. The Senate refused to take up the proposal. 

Large commercial breeders that sell puppies to the public are not regulated by the state. There are no inspections or licensing requirements.

For years, poll numbers have consistently shown that North Carolina voters favor state regulation of dog breeding operations. But the American Kennel Club, hunting groups and agricultural interests have worked diligently against the idea. They argue that requiring kennel inspections violates breeders' property rights and say setting standards for companion animals could trigger similar requirements for livestock breeding operations.

This year, Gov. Pat McCrory and House leaders included in their respective budgets a proposal to move the state's animal welfare division away from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Public Safety, where it could more closely coordinate inspection and enforcement efforts with local and state law enforcement.

The House plan would also define a commercial breeder as an operation with 10 or more breeding female dogs over 6 months old whose primary purpose is to produce and sell puppies to the public. Hunting, sporting and show dog kennels would be exempted. 

That language has been removed from the final budget deal.

Advocates for regulation calling Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office say they're being told "the puppy mill language was pulled due to unethical behavior on the part of its supporters." 

The reference to "unethical behavior" stems from an incident in January when regulation supporters met with Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, a veterinarian who opposes the House legislation.  

Rabon's comments in that meeting were laced with obscenities, calling House leaders a profane term and accusing McCrory and his wife of improperly lobbying for the 2013 bill. He also told them the legislation wouldn't be considered in 2014. 

The supporters recorded the meeting and released it to the media, embarrassing Rabon and Senate leaders.

The woman who recorded the meeting said the audio recorder was in plain sight at all times, but Senate leaders accused her and others of "secretly" recording the meeting and attempting to "extort" lawmakers by releasing it.

In a January press release, Senate leaders blamed the advocates for "derailing" the bill, apparently unaware or unconcerned that Rabon had already said the legislation was dead before the recording was ever released. "Following extreme, divisive and unethical tactics from individuals lobbying for a puppy mill bill, Senate leaders announced Monday that the issue will not receive further consideration in their chamber for the 2014 short session."

Kim Alboum, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, sent out an email to supporters, asking them to contact other members of House and Senate leadership in an effort to save the language currently in the House budget. 

"Dogs and puppies should not suffer due to an isolated incident between a Senator and his constituents," Alboum said in the message. "Please tell them that one incident should [not] stop responsible legislation from passing just as one inappropriate legislator should not define an entire party." 

Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth said she could not confirm details of phone conversations she wasn't part of, but she referred WRAL News to the January press release.

"To my knowledge, the Senate has not changed its position," Auth said.

"It is incredibly disappointing to see the lack of regard for the nine out of 10 North Carolinians who want to see protection in place for dogs and puppies," Alboum said.