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RICHMOND — Competing bills before the Virginia General Assembly to regulate so-called puppy mills have been leashed together.
The Humane Society of the United States last year launched a probe of large commercial dog breeding operations in Virginia.
The action was taken after an operation in Bland County, known as Dogwood Kennels, caught fire last March, killing nearly 200 dogs on the premises.
Animal advocates visited breeding operations to secretly take video of conditions that the dogs were being kept in.
They reported finding overbreeding, crowded conditions, dirty cages, poor food and shelter and other problems.
The advocates also said they found the largest puppy mill in the state in Hillsville.
At Horton’s Pups, they estimated the number of breeding animals at somewhere between 500 and 700.
Business owner Junior Horton soon surrendered all but 200 of the small purebred and hybrid dogs to Carroll County authorities, who in turn gave them to adoption agencies from near and far after veterinarians examined them.
Though the facility was relatively well-kept, Horton did not have a U.S. Department of Agriculture license required of animal breeders and only had kennel permits for up to 500 dogs.
As a result, Del. Ward Armstrong (D-Henry County), who represents part of Carroll County, introduced legislation to require state licensing of commercial breeders and fees and regular inspections of these facilities and to make violations a misdemeanor charge.
An agriculture subcommittee that Armstrong’s House Bill 690 was referred to decided to incorporate it with a more detailed bill from Del. Robert Orrock Sr. (R-Thornburg).
The language of the Caroline County and Spotsylvania legislator’s bill appears to stem from the Dogwood Kennels incident in Bland County.
(The 54th District delegate has also introduced another bill, emergency legislation to prevent companion animals from being euthanized in gas chambers.)
A provision of Orrock’s puppy mill bill would require that breeding facilities have fire emergency plans and safety measures installed.
House Bill 538 would also define commercial breeders as someone who maintains “20 or more unsterilized adult females for commercial breeding purposes.”
The proposal would further require breeders to cooperate with inspections by animal control officers “to ensure compliance with state and federal animal care laws.”
Something that Armstrong’s bill lacked, a limit of keeping 50 adult dogs at one time, appears in Orrock’s legislation.
Pet shops would have to verify that the dealers they buy dogs from have all the required licensing from the USDA, a summary of the bill says.
“Animal control officers shall inspect commercial breeding locations at least twice annually and additionally upon receipt of a complaint or their own motion to ensure compliance with state and federal animal care laws and regulations,” says House Bill 538.
Armstrong’s House Bill 691 proposed inspections four times a year. The agriculture subcommittee struck that from the bill.
The final clause of Orrock’s bill would require a dealer to be free of any animal cruelty convictions.
“Any person who has been convicted of a violation of any law concerning abuse, neglect, or cruelty to animals that sells, offers for sale, or trades any animal is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor,” says the bill as proposed.