Editorial: 2012 effort a dog of a law

Published 12/19 by The Columbus Dispatch

For too long, Ohio has ranked among the worst of states in allowing the neglect and mistreatment of dogs by high-volume commercial breeders.

Animal-welfare advocates — mostly volunteers — worked tirelessly for years to educate citizens, illustrate the extent of the cruelty, and pressure state lawmakers to act. Because of their efforts, in late 2012 the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed, and Gov. John Kasich signed, legislation requiring the Ohio Department of Agriculture to license high-volume breeders and set rules for the housing, nutrition and care of these dogs.

The law allows the department to conduct inspections of commercial breeders and to impound a dog being kept in a manner that violates care standards.

However, the law stopped short of defining those standards. It directed the agriculture director to adopt rules for housing, nutrition, exercise, grooming and disease control. The law created an advisory board to review rules and advise the director on administration.

Now, five years later, many of those responsible for the legislative victory are deeply disappointed. In their view, Agriculture Director Dave Daniels and his advisory board either ignored the law or found it too challenging to enforce.

“Ohio should be leading the country in care standards instead of being the black eye of an industry,” said Kellie DiFrischia, director of the rescue group, Columbus Dog Connection.

That’s why her organization is among 15 local, state and national animal-welfare groups behind formation of Stop Puppy Mills Ohio, which aims to place a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution on the November 2018 statewide ballot.

The highly detailed proposal would add nearly 1,800 words to the state constitution. It would restrict the breeding of female dogs to no more than two litters in any 18-month period and no more than six litters in a dog’s lifetime. It would specify permitted types and sizes of enclosures, require annual veterinary exams, access to nutritious food at least twice a day, continuous access to potable water, and 30 minutes of daily socialization with humans.

“Ohio is an infamous puppy mill state and is home to hundreds of commercial breeding facilities. Ohio’s current law has failed to solve Ohio’s massive puppy mill problem,” the coalition said.

Ideally, this type of detailed regulation belongs in the Ohio Revised Code, not the constitution. The constitution already is cluttered with too many statute-like provisions, such as those specifying the location of casinos and establishing livestock-care standards.

However, it’s easy to understand why advocates have chosen the constitutional route. Not only has the agriculture department failed to meaningfully execute existing law on puppy mills, the legislature recently has sent valentines to the industry.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law to override any local ordinance prohibiting pet stores from buying puppies from high-volume breeders, torpedoing ordinances adopted in Grove City and Toledo. The Grove City ordinance was aimed at Petland, a chain for which animal-welfare groups have special disdain.

It would be far better if we had an agriculture department and legislature willing to show Ohioans it doesn’t take a constitutional amendment to do right by our canine companions.

Read the original editorial here.