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Abused pets got the attention of Missouri lawmakers

March 07, 2001
By: Maggie Rotermund
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 511 & SB 490

JEFFERSON CITY - Abused pets and animals got the attention of Missouri's lawmakers Wednesday.

More than one hundred people descended on the Capital Wednesday to lobby for and against proposed changes to the Animal Care Facilities Act.

Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, and Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, presented to a Senate committee legislation to toughen regulation of animal breeders and distributors.

"We want to draft legislation that is reasonable and responsible. It is our intention to address concerns, incorporate improvements and debate changes," Gibbons said.

The legislation came after a report from Missouri's state auditor that blasted the state for inadequate enforcement of the existing laws designed to protect animals.

"This is a $2 billion a year business and there is a conflict of interest at the heart of the program. The credibility of the program is dependent on removing this conflict," said State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

In her audit, McCaskill criticized state regulation for having on the regulatory board breeders subject regulation.

Missouri is the largest dog producing state in the nation. Federal estimates state that 40 percent of all dogs in the nation come out from Missouri.

And, according to some testifying before the committee, Missouri also is getting a national reputation for poor treatment.

"The shame is that we deserve that criticism. We've earned it. An actual economic and tourism boycott is being formed out there. That's how bad our reputation has gone. It's embarrassing," Judith Cato said. "With this bill, you are giving Missouri a chance to redeem its reputation."

Lowell Mohler, the new director of Missouri's Agriculture Department, testified in support of the bill.

"Because of the number of breeders in the state, Missouri faces challenges that other states don't," said Mohler. "But one case of abuse is one case too many in my opinion."

Most dogs end up in family homes and supporters' main concern is the quality of health and temperament of dogs bred in Missouri.

Gary Abelov, a dog behaviorist, says he sees dogs everyday that are afraid of their own shadow and there is an increasing problem with foul temperaments.

"This is a serious problem because Missouri sends dogs across the United States, Europe and Canada," Abelov said.

On the other side, the breeders' industry came in force before the committee to oppose the bill.

"Free enterprise says the consumer votes with a fee," said Rocky McMahan of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association. "Missouri is the top producer in the country. What does that say?"

McMahan said he sees no benefits to animal welfare in the bill, only punitive issues and departmental corrections.

The state auditor acknowledged the controversy.

"This issue involves a reaction that is emotional and reactive. And I am depressed. I look forward to the day when I walk into a hearing on foster care with this kind of attendance and involvement," McCaskill said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.