The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

April 2, 2013

Senate committee approves of ‘puppy mill’ registration

CHARLESTON — A years-long crusade to crack down on suspected abuse at commercial dog breeding facilities in West Virginia took another stride forward Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although one member voiced reservations over its necessity, the panel approved SB437, aimed at registering and inspecting so-called “puppy mills.”

For years, the legislation has been a key object of the Humane Society of the United States.

“We lack any standards of care for any facilities with animals in them, and any commercial breeding facilities especially,” the HSUS’s state director, Summer Wyatt, said after the committee acted.

With such a law on the books, Wyatt said the state can enforce standards that guarantee adequate care, including food and water, exercise and ample living space — the same level people accord pets in their homes.

No one can say just how many commercial breeders exist in the state.

If the bill survives both the Senate and House, she said, “we’ll have a better understanding of how many commercial breeders are out there.”

Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, voted against the amended version in a judiciary subcommittee, anchored by Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, but agreed to support it before the full committee.

In short, Williams sees the bill as unnecessary.

“I just think this is perhaps a solution looking for a problem,” Williams said. “I hope it solves the problem that is perceived to occur out there. I hope it doesn’t have a negative impact on those legitimate breeders who are out there going to be registered and licensed.”

The new version defines a breeder as one with 11 or more unsterilized dogs kept more than a year for the exclusive purpose of breeding. And there is no limit to the number of unsterilized dogs in a kennel. The original measure imposed a cap of 50. And the revised bill allows a circuit judge or magistrate to allow a period of grace, or “improvement,” for breeders found in violation. If the upgrades are completed, all charges lodged against the breeder would be dismissed.

“We all want to protect puppies,” Williams said. “That is not the issue here.” He said the existing animal cruelty laws in the state are strong enough to deal with any abuse, evidenced by an arrest last weekend in Harrison County and an earlier one in the Eastern Panhandle.

Any act of abuse is “despicable” and should never be tolerated, Williams said, but West Virginia law is capable of dealing with such acts and this bill would burden legitimate breeders.

The Senate bill must be voted on by the end of Wednesday, since this is the final day for the Legislature to act on bills originating in each chamber.

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