By Mannix Porterfield
West Virginia’s first law regulating commercial dog breeders is a House vote and governor’s signature away from being added to state code.
In a divided voice vote Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave its blessing to SB437 without any amendments even offered to a bill that has been around fully five sessions.
A number of lawmakers wondered why it is necessary to enact such legislation when laws already exist to protect animals from abuse.
But the committee’s attorney, Kip Reese, said the problem that inspired the bill was the so-called “puppy mills.”
Reese said the intent is to assure that pups bred for sale as pets are afforded an acceptable level of care.
“I guess the conduct that we’re trying to stop here isn’t abuse but it’s not creating a comfort level that we believe dogs should have,” said Delegate John McCuskey, R-Kanawha.
McCuskey also wondered if the legislation is about animal care or simply generating money.
“It’s definitely worth the effort,” Summer Wyatt, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said after the bill cleared the panel, noting it has been around five years now.
“We have a piece of legislation that can help thousands of animals and set a precedent for standards of care for thousands more. I’m just thrilled.”
Wyatt said breeders are obligated to register with the state, just as any other business concern.
“Just as it’s our responsibility as pet owners to license our pets through the county or city and most pet owners are not known to do that,” she said.
“I’m hoping responsible breeders will go out there and sign up so we can know how many breeders are in our state and how much commercial breeding is going on in terms of selling and breeding of dogs.”
Wyatt said the bill should prevent another problem like the one five years ago in Parkersburg, where 1,000 neglected dogs cost Wood County a huge sum to clean up.
Just how many breeders are in business is difficult to say, but Wyatt said she has received numerous complaints about breeders and some people have sent her photographs as evidence.
“We have an idea where many of these individuals are and probably the ones that are committing the most egregious forms of neglect toward their animals,” she said.
“Most are responsible breeders and we don’t know where they are because we aren’t getting complaints about them.”
The Senate bill provides a number of exemptions, including dogs bred for hunting and show purposes.
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