Alabama Bill to Regulate Puppy Mill Abuses Killed in Senate Committee

An unusually well-organized and determined effort by animal lovers and advocates to stop the abuse of dogs and cats by unscrupulous puppy mill operators and backyard breeders came to an abrupt end yesterday in the Alabama Legislature. The American Kennel Club, whose members include breeders who stack crates holding breeding dogs without temperature regulation, adequate veterinary care, or adequate exercise, used its clout (and money) to have the bill killed in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

I wrote in 2015 about how a House committee chairman, David Sessions (R. - Grand Bay), single-handedly killed an earlier bill aimed at curbing the worst abuses of puppy mill operators.  That bill was openly opposed by the AKC, which derives millions of dollars in revenues from dues paid by breeders, including respectable breeders as well as the pond scum backyard breeders who callously abuse dogs and cats for profit. My 2015 article was intended to illustrate how money does all the talking in Montgomery:

In the scheme of things, the AKC is not a major lobbying force in Alabama.  But it does have money to contribute to election campaigns, and lobbyists who have wining and dining budgets.

That’s a lot more than dogs have.  There is no well-heeled organization with a lobbying budget representing the interests of dogs.

This week, in a small but instructive example of how our Legislature works, we saw what happens when a special interest group opposes something proposed by ordinary folks who do not have professional lobbyists on staff or an election campaign contribution budget.

The 2015 proposed law admittedly had some problems. For one thing, its enforcement mechanism was strictly through criminal prosecution of breeders who violated the act. Additionally, there were some definitional problems with what conduct was covered by the act, which gave rise to legitimate concerns that the law could be read to cover conduct that was not abusive toward animals. Animal Advocates of Alabama editor and president, Joey Kennedy, wrote that such concerns could have been addressed in the legislative process, where bills are always subject to amendment, rather than being stuck in the desk drawer of Rep. Sessions:

There is nothing wrong with discussing the merits of a bill. But to not even discuss the bill is wrong. There’s no way to improve a bill that a state representative refuses to allow his committee to consider or even discuss. But that’s how our terrible Legislature works.

This year's bill proposed by Rep. Priscilla Dunn (D.-Bessemer) was a much better proposal. Rather than ham-handed criminal penalties for vaguely defined acts, SB 17 (HB 45 in the House of Representatives) proposed creating an Alabama Dog and Cat Breeders Commission, which would license and regulate dog and cat breeders. A system of inspections would ensure that licensed breeders followed guidelines concerning the stacking of pet crates, regular exercise, annual veterinary visits, and other requirements aimed to ensure that breeding animals are not mistreated. These inspections would have been financed by license fees paid by the breeders, who would simply not be allowed to operate in the state without a license.

The bill was drafted by an organization called the Alabama Puppy Mill Project, whose lawyers, advocates, and yes, even breeders, all had input in the well-thought-out provisions of the bill.
Animal Advocates of Alabama contributor and well-known dog breeder and trainer Abigail Witthauer was deeply involved in the project, and published a courageous article on this site earlier this week taking the AKC to task for its immoral opposition to laws protecting dogs and cats from abuse by backyard breeders.

None of it mattered. A handful of senators on the Governmental Affairs Committee supported the legislation, but yesterday, the bill died when it failed to win a majority vote of the committee. In a heartbreaking press conference carried live on Facebook (which I am technologically incapable of embedding in this post but which you can find here), Greater Birmingham Humane Society Executive Director Allison Black spoke passionately about how senators who professed support for the bill suddenly switched their votes yesterday, including Arthur Orr (R.-Decatur), who said he would vote for it but mysteriously disappeared from the committee room just before the vote.

Now, unscrupulous and greedy dog and cat breeders remain free in Alabama to abuse these animals, to allow them to spread infections, to live in crates where they are sprayed with the pee and poop of the animals living in the crates on top of them, to grow fat and unhealthy from lack of exercise, and to die an early death after a short and miserable life.

Shame on you, senators.



Johnny Norris

Johnny Norris, a Talladega native, received a BA in political science from Birmingham-Southern College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He has a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law, and was on the Board of Editors of the Alabama Law Review. Johnny represents plaintiffs in cases involving environmental contamination and consumer rights. He also is a progressive blogger on the subject of Alabama political, tax, and constitutional reform. He and his wife, Missy, have three dogs, two cats, and an unconscionable number of fish, and are both passionate about animal rights. He has stated, "We have a social contract with our pets. They give us unconditional love for their entire lifetime. In exchange, we owe them the happiest and most comfortable lives we can provide them."

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