Local News

Opponents speak against 'puppy mill' bill

Posted April 22, 2009 5:18 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 7:10 p.m. EDT

— Opponents of two bills in the General Assembly that would strengthen protections for dogs at so-called puppy mills say the proposed legislation is needless and would wrongly target legitimate breeders.

"This bill is an attempt by the animal rights movement to insert themselves over my property rights," said Henri McClees, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Sporting Dog Association.

McClees was one of about 60 people who gathered at the state Legislative Building Wednesday to hear discussions on House Bill 733, which would regulate the care of dogs and conditions of facilities for commercial breeders, defined as having 15 or more adult female dogs.

Scheduling conflicts prevented the House Agriculture Committee from hearing arguments for and against the measure, but the committee is expected to hear from both sides next Wednesday before voting on the issue.

The proposed law, dubbed the "puppy mill legislation" by supporters, would also require regular inspections and limit breeders to owning no more than 20 female dogs over the age of four months.

Opponents say they believe breeders should be allowed to breed as many dogs as they can care for responsibly. They are also concerned about how legislation would affect hunting groups, where hunters typically breed and sell dogs within the hunting community.

North Carolina does not have a law regulating commercial dog breeders or puppy mills – breeding facilities that mass-produce puppies for sale – but supporters of the bill say it would help prevent conditions like those that prompted animal control officers to seize 283 dogs from a kennel in southern Wayne County in February.

Authorities said the animals – mostly shih-tzus, chihuahuas and Lhasa apsos – seized from Thornton Kennels in Mount Olive had been neglected and that many were emaciated and had untreated cuts, infections and matted fur.

Investigators had been looking at the facility for a year but were only able to remove the animals only when they were able to prove animal cruelty charges. The kennel's owner, Virginia Thornton, now faces a dozen misdemeanor charges in the case.

Legislation would allow authorities to intervene sooner in future cases.

"We want these breeders to have to be accountable for what they do," said Amanda Arrington, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. "If you're doing a good job breeding and you're doing it the right way, you have nothing to worry about."

Senate Bill 460, introduced last month, is similar to its House counterpart but has one key difference, its sponsor Sen. Don Davis, D-Wayne, said. It does not include a cap on the number of animals at a facility.

"We are intentionally not targeting hunters, show or work dogs," Davis said.