JEFFERSON CITY - Jon Kimes breeds dogs, and he's worried about Proposition B.
"I'm not as polarized as everyone else," said Kimes. "I appreciate the efforts put forth by the animal welfare people. But I think that this bill was put together by people who aren't very knowledgeable about keeping and breeding dogs, and who aren't very knowledgeable about what the outcome of this legislation could be."
Kimes is a small-scale breeder. He owns the Pluperfect Kennel in Peculiar, just outside of Kansas City. He breeds mostly Welsh corgis and calls himself an "avocational" breeder: he breeds dogs primarily for show, rather than for sale. Like many avocational breeders, the number of dogs Kimes keeps fluctuates from a half-dozen to double that number, or more.
"Because this law does a really terrible job of defining a puppy mill, it has the potential to impact every breeder," said Kimes. "And what frightens me a little bit is you can take an issue like this, where you have to have some in-depth knowledge, and you can paint it at an emotional level to appeal to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who knows nothing about breeding dogs, and word it in a way that people won't vote against it."
Supporters of the bill say Missouri has a serious problem with abusive dog breeders that can only be addressed with through legislation. As evidence they point to the dozens of raids that are conducted by the Missouri Department of Agriculture every year. Like the one that took place on September 21 of this year, in which over a hundred dogs were removed from a breeding facility in central Missouri after the owner ran out of money for food.
Or the raid that took place in February 2009, in which nearly 200 dogs were found, starving and sitting in their own feces, at a facility in Greene County. They were surrounded by the skeletons and decomposing bodies of other dogs, most of which were stuffed into dog-food bags.
"It's an agricultural model applied to dog production," said Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States. "These are factory farms for dogs."
Barbara Schmitz is the campaign manager of Missourians for the Protection of Dogs. She was involved with creation of the initiative and with gathering the signatures needed to put it on the ballot. She said that the language of the initiative was meant to be specific and enforceable.
"The laws are so vague right now and there are many loopholes," said Schmitz. "What we're trying to do is to ensure not just that the standards are clear but that they are enforceable. If we have the provisions set up in a different way, say with regard to exercise, it's very easy for [breeders] to say, oh, I was going to walk them in an hour, or I walked them two hours ago."
The initiative would prohibit breeders from keeping more than 50 female dogs for breeding purposes. It would also impose stricter shelter and care requirements for those dogs. Among other things, it would require that all dogs be given constant access to the outdoors, be raised on concrete (as opposed to wire) floors, have climate-controlled indoor kennels and be bred only twice every eighteen months.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, there are 1,449 licensed breeders in Missouri. The average breeder keeps 44 female dogs for breeding.
The proposition was sponsored by Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, a coalition of various animal rights groups that includes the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of Missouri, and the Humane Society of the United States.
The group began circulating signature petitions in early 2010 and submitted those signatures to the state on May 2. On August 3, it was approved by the Secretary of State, and ten days later it overcame a court challenge to stay on the ballot. The case hinged on the usage of the term "puppy mill" in the initiative's language, but Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem upheld the right of the initiative to use the term.
The most active opposition has come from breeders themselves. The Alliance for Truth, an organization formed specifically to fight the initiative, has been endorsed not only 18 Missouri elected officials but also by over a hundred breeders and veterinarians. (Both the Missourians for the Protection of Dogs and the Alliance for Truth tout endorsements from some out-of-state organizations on their websites.)
Hubert Lavy is 68. A Vietnam veteran, he runs Tenderheart Kennels with his wife Sharon on their farm in Silex. He claims the law would cost him about $50,000 in renovation costs.
Todd Mason, who works for Eagle Valley Kennel, echoed Lavy's concerns. "Two of our buildings will be obsolete, we won't even be able to raise in them anymore," said Mason. Both Mason and Lavy said that their kennels housed over 100 dogs.
Other criticisms of the initiative has come from some agricultural organizations who claim that the initiative is only the first step in a larger attempt by animal-rights advocates to impose more legislation on farming and livestock breeding.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Missouri Farm Family Agriculture Alliance wrote that "the HSUS (the Humane Society of the United States) is anti-animal agriculture and anti-farmer. This proposal...is dangerous for Missouri's agribusiness industry." Similar statements have been issued by the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.
Proposition B itself applies only to dogs, and the Humane Society of the United States denies that it has plans to advance any more legislation. "There is no other agenda," said Schmitz, noting that any further initiatives would have to go through the same signature-gathering process that Proposition B did.