'Puppy mill' bills under review in Richmond

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

RICHMOND — Carroll County officials predicted that legislative proposals would arise in the wake of a statewide probe into “puppy mills” by the Humane Society of the United States.

And their predictions were right.

The Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday began considering new requirements and enforcement measures as proposed by Del. Ward Armstrong.

Animal advocates had taken secret video at commercial breeding operations in Virginia in 2007, and they pronounced the state had a puppy mill problem with more than 1,000 such operations.

The largest they found was Horton’s Pups in Hillsville, which they said had 500 to 700 breeding animals on site and no U.S. Department of Agriculture permit to sell the dogs to pet stores.

Further investigation by local officials showed that Horton’s Pups kennel permit allowed only up to 500 dogs on the premises.

(Owner Junior Horton has not been charged with any wrongdoing.)

Animal Control Officer Terry Woods has said that he had no direction from the state to inspect kennels.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials had previously done inspections, but federal budget cuts ended the practice.

If the Virginia bills are passed, animal control officers will have responsibility of regularly inspecting kennels and enforcing good animal care practices in their localities.

Armstrong submitted two bills dealing with commercial breeding operations for consideration.

House Bill 690 would add a state licensing requirement for commercial breeding of companion animals to go along with the federal.

“Before Nov. 30 of each year, any commercial breeder shall file a written application for a license with the commissioner,” the bill said. “Each commercial breeder shall pay a license fee of $150 per licensing year.”

Those who are late in getting their license would be assessed a $50 penalty.

The information and license fee will be sent to the locality where the “greatest number of companion animals owned by the commercial breeder are maintained.”

Armstrong’s proposal states that the locality will use funds it receives from licensing fees for inspection and enforcement.

The bill, if passed, would grant authority to animal control officers to investigate commercial breading operations to find if they are in compliance with animal care laws.

The proposal would give animal control officers the right to look at any breeder’s books, any kennel or other place where animals are bred.

Breeders must help with inspections, which would be allowed during daytime hours.

Any violation under the proposed law would be considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

House Bill 691 would require animals control officers to make quarterly inspections where companion animals are bred.

“The animal control officer shall ensure that dealers comply with state and federal standards for sanitation, licensure, and adequate care,” says the bill.

After a quick look at the bill Friday, Woods told The Gazette he needs to study it more.

A couple things did raise questions for him, such as how the state license would dovetail with the federal one.

He noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture license is required for breeders to sell to pet stores, so that left Woods wondering where “backyard breeders” — who sell only to individuals — stand.

Would the backyard breeders have to get the state license if they didn’t have to get the federal one?

He also hoped that the state would come through with a maximum number of animals that a commercial breeder could have.

“I’d like to see them put a limit on the number of animals a breeder can have,” Woods said.