Published 11/9 by Mansfield News Journal
ONTARIO — A grassroots movement is calling for better treatment of dogs in Ohio puppy mills and collecting signatures to try to put the issue on the ballot.
Stop Puppy Mills Ohio is a grassroots coalition of both national and local shelters, rescues and organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, working to ensure the humane treatment of dogs in commercial breeding facilities.
The facilities become puppy mills when the breeders don't care about the health or well-being of the animals in order to maximize profits, said Corey Roscoe, campaign director for Stop Puppy Mills Ohio and Ohio director for the Humane Society of the United States.
"This is like not even high expectations of care," she said. "This is sort of normal things you would want any, you know, beloved family pet to have in their lifetimes. However, we've let puppy mills get away with not providing this for so many years. But this measure will change some of that."
The Columbus-based coalition, which kicked off in October, is collecting signatures for a petition to try to get the citizen-driven initiative on the ballot, hosting a kick-off meeting at the Ontario library Thursday night.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution, called the Puppy Mill Prevention Amendment, would establish welfare standards for any Ohio commercial breeder with eight or more breeding females and require any person in any state selling 15 or more dogs in Ohio only sell dogs who come from breeders that meet those same standards.
Specific requirements in the amendment would include humane treatment of dogs, constant access to potable water, access to nutritious food at least twice daily, access to outdoor exercise areas at least twice the size of the indoor enclosure and clean, unstacked, indoor enclosures with solid flooring and significantly larger space requirements than current law.
The amendment would also require protections from extreme temperatures and elements, access to temperature-controlled indoor areas, proper veterinary care, socialization with humans, housing with other compatible dogs, safe breeding practices and genetic screening for diseases.
Missouri passed a similar constitutional amendment in 2010, but Roscoe said the Ohio amendment would be one of the most comprehensive puppy mill laws in the nation.
"We really feel that this is gonna change the paradigm of how puppies are treated in puppy mills across the nation," she said.
Stop Puppy Mills Ohio field operations manager Karl Rusnak said the campaign's goal is 400,000 signatures.
The petition needs 306,000 signatures from 44 of Ohio's 88 counties to be submitted to the Ohio secretary of state's office, so the 400,000 number gives a buffer for signatures that are thrown out, including those that don't match a signer's voter registration signature or signatures from signers that aren't registered to vote.
The signatures must be submitted by early July 2018, with a goal to get the measure on the ballot in November 2018.
According to Stop Puppy Mills Ohio, there were 260 USDA-licensed commercial breeders in Ohio and 263 state-licensed high volume breeders as of June 2017.
Ohio is second only to Missouri in the number of federally licensed commercial breeding facilities, Roscoe said.
"Ohio has a puppy mill problem," she said.
The Commercial Dog Breeders Act, which went into effect in March 2013, sets licensing and registration requirements for high-volume dog breeders, dog retailers and animal rescues.
High-volume dog breeders, which produce at least nine litters of puppies in a year and sell 60 or more adult dogs or puppies per year, and dog retailers are required to obtain a license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Licensed facilities must meet ODA standards of care and submit to regular inspections. They're also required to carry insurance or surety bonds, and veterinary care must be provided.
But the Stop Puppy Mills Ohio movement reports the act's standards are too weak, and enforcement is difficult, with puppy mills able to slip through the cracks.
Roscoe said Ohio residents should care about better regulations for puppy mills because of concern for the animals' welfare, family and consumer protection and public health.
She said those who purchase dogs that came from puppy mills often pay a lot of money for dogs that could be diseased or injured, leading to huge, unanticipated vet bills.
And these dogs can carry diseases that can make humans sick, too, like a September multi-state outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing intestinal illness in humans that came from pet store puppies, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"Ohio was one of the hardest hit," Roscoe said.
Roscoe said the coalition tries to be sensitive to supporting jobs and business in Ohio, but providing humane conditions and making a profit are not mutually exclusive.
"You can be in business and be humane," she said. "You don't just have to do one or the other."
Humane Society of Richland County director Missy Houghton said the shelter fully supports the coalition.
"It's basic rights that every companion animal should have, regardless of where they are housed," she said. "Every animal deserves to feel grass, have fresh air, have socialization."
Houghton discussed a case several years ago in which the humane society removed almost 300 dogs, mostly Chihuahuas and Shar Peis, from a puppy mill in Shelby.
The dogs were neglected, with medical conditions left untreated. One Shar Pei lost both its eyes, and many of the Chihuahuas had dental diseases.
"There were some dogs that had never been touched," she said. "And so they were completely terrified of human interaction."
To request petitions, visit the coalition's website at stoppuppymillsohio.com. For more information, visit the coalition's Facebook and Twitter pages at @nopuppymillsoh.
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