By Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
“The emotion of the puppy, man’s best friend. How do you not want to protect these little innocent puppies?” asked Missouri Farm Bureau’s Kelly Smith in a speech to commercial dog breeders and other farmed animal producers. “That was very hard. And that was something that the rest of animal agriculture had to learn and deal with. It was very, very hard to do.”
The protection to which Smith referred might have been provided by a Missouri law, Prop B, the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” proposed in 2010 by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare groups, who said it would improve the lives of the tens of thousands of dogs—many severely neglected and ill—who are used to create about a million puppies annually in the state’s 1,000-plus commercial breeding establishments.
But the state’s dog breeders and farmers believed it was a law against which they needed to protect themselves, said Smith, the farm bureau’s marketing and commodities director.
Large-scale commercial dog breeding is a $2.4 billion a year industry in Missouri that gives “a lot of jobs and a lot of tax revenue to our state,” he argued.
And because about 30 percent of all puppies sold in U.S. pet stores come from that state, not only produced in inhumane conditions but also adding to the nation’s crushing flood of unwanted pets, according to animal advocates, they condemn Missouri as “the puppy mill capital of America.”
Smith, however, said 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. He added that Prop B would have just set an anti-farming precedent and in some ways would have required that breeders take better care of dogs than of children.
Speaking to attendees at last year’s Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) “United We Eat” Summit, Smith explained why breeder and agriculture lobbies in the state fought Prop B, which voters approved in a statewide election but that Gov. Jay Nixon, bowing to its opponents, eventually replaced with a weaker law in 2011.
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:
Part 1: Missouri breeds 30% of puppies sold in U.S. pet stores, says farm bureau
Part 2: More than 5,500 dogs raided from Missouri dog breeders since start of ‘Operation Bark Alert’
Part 3: Law would have required better care for dogs than for children, says farm bureau)
Speech by Kelly Smith, Missouri Farm Bureau (Part 4):
So, the campaign. We knew we needed to talk about it, review the issues, why it wasn’t good, and we were ready to go to battle, but we forgot one little thing: how do you fight this? The emotion of the puppy, man’s best friend. How do you not want to protect these little innocent puppies?
That was very hard. And that was something that the rest of animal agriculture had to learn and deal with. It was very, very hard to do.
If you will indulge me, I’m going to kind of fly through the campaign part of this thing, and under a part called “Lessons Learned” at the end, we’ll come back and incorporate several things that happened that I think we need to share with people as far as things that you might want to remember and use in your own states with that.
Vast majority of Missourians signed the Prop B petition
The first thing that we had to deal with in our state is HSUS’s survey that they did said that 89 out of 100 Missourians had signed that initiative petition. That was pretty disheartening. So if we use this as the first basis of a polling on how we move from 89-11 down to about 51-49 in November, we did pretty darn good in our state moving the people.
We just didn’t start quick enough was the big problem in there. In our state, the dog breeders took the lead on this issue which they should have, and most of the other ag organizations basically supported what they were doing.
We have three professional what I would call dog breeder organizations in our state: Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, Missouri Pet Breeders Association, and Professional Pet Association.
Those three groups basically took the lead on this and the ag organizations followed what they did and supported them, because they were a minority in our state. They didn’t have a whole lot of money to work with, period, and so the rest of agriculture finally came along on board with that.
Dog breeders filed lawsuit against animal welfare groups
Our dog breeders filed a lawsuit against HSUS, ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals], the Missouri Humane Society, and the other groups that were bringing the ballot initiative, basically on the basis of the ballot language and the ballot title being biased.
And HSUS did everything they could. This lawsuit was filed in February. It did not get settled until August 9, about four days before the state of Missouri had to print the ballots for a November election.
HSUS did everything they could to drag this out. Every trick in the trade they could do, they did, including going as low as hiring the brother of the judge that was trying the case so that the judge had to recuse himself from the case, which basically took them back to square one. And this was in, probably, July.
So, I mean, every delay tactic that could be thought of. These guys are good—we don’t like them, but they are good at what they do.
Dog breeder couple’s professional ‘politico’ daughter ran an anti-Prop B campaign
Now, as I said, most of the ag organizations supported what they were doing, but there was kind of one little problem that some of them had with that, and that’s the first figure up there. Eighty-nine out of 100 people were going to vote for this thing, or at least had signed that petition. We’re going to get killed. So maybe we should just lay low, not do anything, save all of our time and resources when they come back to Missouri in 2012 with the livestock ballot initiative.
They finally, I mean, the rest of the organizations came to their senses, but the Farm Bureau was out front with this the whole way. We had members that were dog breeders. We had policies that supported what they were doing. We were with them from the very beginning on this.
In the end, two coalitions were basically formed. Missourians for Animal Care was a group that the agriculture and dog breeders put together to fight the ballot initiative. And then the other group that came along that was formed as a result of a meeting in St. Louis that I spoke at, three other people spoke at, in trying to educate the urban people about that, and that was the Alliance for Truth.
The Alliance for Truth was formed by a couple out of Chesterfield, Missouri. They were the instigators of it. They had a daughter that was a politico and she worked on national legislative campaigns, basically. And they just called their daughter and said, “You know, this is not a good deal.” They told her, they said you’re coming home, you’re going to spend the next three or four months in Missouri helping to fight this battle.
So this lady came back to Missouri and stayed in St. Louis, and her basis of influence was in the area of St. Louis and we’re going to talk a little bit more about that later in “Lessons Learned.”
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Coming up soon in this series:
- ‘Mutts’ comic strip came out against commercial dog breeders, says 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:
Missouri breeds 30% of puppies sold in U.S. pet stores, says farm bureau
More than 5,500 dogs raided from Missouri dog breeders since start of ‘Operation Bark Alert’
Law would have required better care for dogs than for children, says farm bureau
Puppy mills make dogs ‘autistic,’ says study
Reporter asks USDA to review study on damaged mental health of puppy mill dogs
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).