‘Mutts’ comic strip characters helped pass a law to regulate dog breedersPosted: August 18, 2012
By Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
Some of the most powerful opponents of commercial dog breeders—nemeses fierce enough to help pass a law that would have mandated welfare standards for dogs used in “puppy mills”—those enemies apparently were, well… imaginary, according to the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Creator Patrick McDonnell employed his imagination, in the form of characters Earl, Woofie and friends in his popular comic strip Mutts to speak up for Missouri’s Prop B, the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.”
Kelly Smith, farm bureau director of marketing and commodities, described the use of make-believe animals as just another weapon in the arsenal of groups like The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and Best Friends Animal Society, who he said together spent $4.6 million to get the 2010 measure passed.
With enactment of ballot initiative Prop B, “high-volume breeders would [have been] limited to 50 breeding dogs per facility and… required to provide the basic needs for their dogs, including regular medical check ups and treatment, decent food and clean water,” according to Best Friends Animal Society.
Animal advocates condemn Missouri as “the puppy mill capital of America” because breeders in the state produce hundreds of thousands of puppies annually—about 30 percent of all puppies sold in U.S. pet stores—who they say are not only raised in inhumane conditions but who, in many cases, eventually join the nation’s overwhelming legions of unwanted pets.
Ultimately voters did approve Prop B by 51.6 percent, but in the ensuing furor from Missouri’s dog breeders and farmers, Gov. Jay Nixon replaced it with a much less stringent version in 2011.
Smith defended what he said is a $2.4 billion industry in the state by saying there is plenty of regulation already, pointing as proof to the fact that in the past few years the Missouri Department of Agriculture has seized 5,500 dogs from neglectful commercial breeders. Prop B would have set an anti-farming precedent and in some ways would have required that breeders take better care of dogs than of children, he added.
Speaking to attendees at last year’s Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) “United We Eat” Summit, Smith explained why and how breeder and agriculture lobbies in the state fought Prop B. Animal Issues Reporter’s Katerina Lorenzatos Makris, who covered the AAA Summit, presents Smith’s version of the Prop B tale in her multi-part series:
“Lessons learned in the ‘puppy mill capital of America’: The rise, fall and legacy of Missouri’s Prop B”
(Previous articles in this series:
Speech by Kelly Smith, Missouri Farm Bureau (Part 5):
Now, the other side has a lot of resources. One of those is a cartoonist named Patrick McDonnell, who writes the Mutts strip. We were inundated with all these cartoons, which was free advertising for the other side…day in and day out, all of them being negative against dog breeders and influencing and biasing the people, especially in urban/suburban Missouri.
Besides all of these cartoons that we had to deal with, just like the rest of you all, we had to deal with the TV commercials they put on now. The “No on Prop B” commercials, and then a second series of commercials where they’re fundraising commercials, which we’ve all seen them: “Give us $19 a month and we’ll take care of all these poor dogs and cats.”
They throw a horse picture in the middle of it, and then at the end they roll the dairy cow out of that loader truck. You’ve all seen these things. They use emotion and pull on the heartstrings of the pet-owning suburban/urban person to get to them. And most of these people do not have a clue in what they’re giving to with that.
We had red and white “No on Prop B” signs, and we had them up all over the state. These particular signs came from Kansas City, they came from a company in downtown Kansas City that was supporting our cause. The signs were basically taken off their stands, turned inside out, and then you can see what was written on them and they were taped back up on the signs. [anti-breeder slogans] And you notice ALF being on there, Animal Liberation Front.
So these are the kinds of things that we dealt with, especially in urban/suburban Missouri with that.
Ballot language ‘biased’ in favor of Prop B
Now, one of the things that we were concerned about the most was the official ballot language. I said that the dog breeders filed a case against this, I mean, eventually lost that case, kind of skipped some things in there, but they filed that law case with this Prop B language because it was highly [biased] language.
But the thing we feared the most was, just read the first paragraph if you could read that…. [points to ballot text on a screen]
Who is not going to agree with that? Not one person in the state of Missouri, or any other place, would say, “Look, I don’t agree with that.” Of course everybody agrees with that first paragraph. They’re not going to read the rest of it. They’re not going to read the entire initiative petition that has the onerous part in it.
Our Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan, okayed this ballot language. At the time she was also running for a U.S. Senate slot in Missouri. She got very handily beat by Representative Roy Blunt and he is our new senator. They had their people put in place.
It’s just as the lady said with the question earlier about people at USDA [United States Department of Agriculture]. They had their people placed around in different areas, their go-to people, you know, with that.
But we were very concerned about the uneducated voter coming in and seeing this for the first time and saying, “Well, I agree with that. I’m going to vote ‘yes.’”
‘This wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue; this was a rural/urban issue’
Now, Election Day came. What happened? Basically, we lost 51-49. We had moved the poll that much. [A poll had shown 89 out of 100 Missourians favored Prop B.]
… this wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue. This was a rural/urban issue. The urban/suburban people are two to five generations away from the farm. They don’t understand what we do in agriculture. They remember agriculture back in a more subsistence manner, and that’s what they believe agriculture should be.
When I was going to St. Louis and Kansas City making presentations, that was one of the things that I had to deal with was their perception of agriculture, their perception of dog breeders with that.
‘Animal activists spent $4.6 million’ on Prop B
Somebody asked how much money we spent in this particular campaign and I said, well, I’m going to cover that. The folks that were in favor of this proposition, animal activists, spent $4.6 million on this particular issue in Missouri. Over half of that money came from HSUS, another significant portion of it came from ASPCA, and the other big-time donor to this was—I don’t remember their name right offhand, but their home base is in Utah [Best Friends Animal Society].
So if you would take that $4.6 million that they spent and divide it out among the number of yes votes that they got, they spent $4.62 per yes vote.
As I said earlier, the dog breeders, they did not have much money to work with. Lots of agricultural organizations, even though they were on board said, “Well, you know, we’re going to spend some money, but we’re going to wait and use our resources for the next time around when they come after us, livestock agriculture.
Between the Alliance for Truth and Missourians for Animal Care, a little less than $200,000 was used. If you were to divide that out by the “no” side, it comes out to 21 cents per no vote. So some big, big discrepancy on who’s got the money and how it’s going to be used.
Agriculture, we’re never going to be the fundraising force, probably, that the other side is. We have to work smarter and we have to work harder.
Newspapers ‘biased towards the animal activists’
Election night, our side was ahead on this pretty handily. Many Missourians went to bed thinking Proposition B was going to be defeated only to wake up the next morning to find out that the other side squeaked out a win.
Even Wayne Pacelle [HSUS president and Chief Executive Officer] who was at St. Louis at their campaign or party headquarters for that night, and reporters were with him, and there was a story written about seven, eight o’clock at night, they were starting, “Hmm, we’re going to get beat, and what message do we give to the public on why we [did this]?” So they were starting down the path of writing a whole different scenario than what wound up being the next morning.
It wasn’t until about 11:30 at night that Wayne Pacelle felt like it had been pulled out, and that’s because the St. Louis votes started coming in. They’re always the last ones… It seems like we always wind up having some voter issues in St. Louis, and guess what? They extend the hours that people can vote. It shouldn’t happen, but it does in our state.
The next day after the election was over agriculture had been beaten. We had several of our state senators and representatives bound to initiate legislation that would remedy the problems… facing our dog breeders, which was basically putting them out of business.
All the newspapers in the state, especially the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was [sic] very biased towards the animal activists. Their editorial board started writing that we should stand by the will of the people. So that became the big issue between November and January 1, when our legislature was coming back in, to say this, we need to abide by the will of the people.
Cartoons about chickens
Guess what else happened after the election? We weren’t done with our cartoons yet. And guess what? This one focused on a different industry: chickens. We can see… this came out November 4 and now we know that they went on out into… Oregon and Washington… after cage layers. I mean they have a game plan with that. It’s probably spread out here for years.
And that’s a thing that people have to understand, farmers have to understand, the consumer has to understand, this is just one of many battles. They’re just going to continue to come at us. They’re hoping they can wear us down, basically, with that. We cannot allow that to happen.
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Coming up soon in this series:
- Humane Society is a ‘factory fundraising machine,’ says Missouri farm bureau
- Is Missouri’s Operation Bark Alert really working? 5,500 dogs rescued, but what about the ones who aren’t?
More AIR on this topic:
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).