In Ohio, last night, it was the best of times and the worst of times. As the state legislature closed in on the end of its lame-duck session, state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that became a veritable Christmas tree of issues, including three key animal-related measures (two of them very good and one very bad).
The bill, sub Senate Bill 331, criminalizes bestiality, the utterly repulsive practices of sexually assaulting animals and the trafficking of animals for sex. The bill also includes a separate provision to make cockfighting a felony offense — upgrading one of the weakest anti-cockfighting laws in a state that, for decades, has had more than its share of fighting enthusiasts and even some major pits. The new anti-cockfighting provision is the final element of a multi-pronged 2010 agreement we reached with the Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Poultry Association, and other agricultural commodity groups in the state. That agreement, which called for the phaseout of extreme confinement practices for veal calves and breeding sows, also called for a ban on keeping dangerous exotics as pets, and for felony-level penalties for cockfighting and the possession of fighting birds and paraphernalia. The win was achieved thanks to the leadership of State Rep. David Hall, who offered his cockfighting bill as an amendment in committee and won the vote there, setting the stage for passage of this long-sought provision when the entire package of bills was approved last night. We’ve been working around the country to crack down on cockfighting, especially in the so-called “cockfighting corridor,” and, if Gov. John Kasich signs the bill, Ohio will become the 43rd state to enact felony-level penalties.
The bad news is, that same bill contains a provision, advanced by the Ohio-based pet store franchise Petland, to ban local governments from prohibiting the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. Petland, the largest puppy-selling pet store chain in the country, pursued this bill after local lawmakers in the Ohio town of Grove City passed an ordinance requiring a Petland store to only source dogs from shelters and rescues. This community joined many other jurisdictions around the nation, including Toledo, in restricting the sale of dogs from mills. Rather than working with animal welfare groups to achieve a statewide compromise on common-sense buying standards for pet stores, the pet industry simply worked to block local communities from having any say in the matter. We are urging Gov. Kasich, who has been a supporter of animal welfare and a critic of puppy mills, to issue a line-item veto and strike this provision.
Especially as our successes have increased, we’ve seen repeated efforts by animal-use industries to disable the fundamental mechanisms of government, and this is just the latest example. In Oklahoma, we just fought off an effort to create a constitutional “right to farm” last month — a measure that sought to forbid the state and local governments from restricting agricultural practices, except if there is a “compelling state interest.” There have been repeated efforts to make the ballot initiative process unusable for us and other organizations and individuals; for example, Colorado just made constitutional ballot initiatives almost impossible to advance. At the federal level, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has repeatedly tried to preempt state laws to restrict animal cruelty laws. And now, with the Petland bill, we are seeing an attempt to bar local government from protecting dogs at risk from inhumane puppy mill operations. In short, these attempts to restrict democratic decision-making are coming from all angles.
The largest and most successful pet store chains in the country do not sell puppies, but instead partner with shelters and rescues to offer adoptions. Rather than convert to a humane model, Petland and other outliers have been fighting us not just in Ohio but throughout the nation on attempts to restrict the sale of puppy mill dogs. Within the last two years, more than 200 localities have taken action to crack down on puppy mills, partly because state legislatures with the highest concentration of mills won’t tackle the problems in a serious-minded way. And while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken some important actions – including bringing Internet sellers under its regulatory authority — the federal standards of care for puppy mill dogs are far too weak. Local governments have stepped in to fill the void.
If this pro-puppy-mill provision becomes law, The HSUS will likely work with allies throughout Ohio and launch a comprehensive ballot measure to address puppy mill issues in the state. But we hope that Gov. Kasich exerts his authority and issues that line-item veto. We have thousands of locally elected officials for a reason. It’s especially appropriate for them to take action on puppy mill issues, since it’s local governments that bear the burden of sheltering homeless animals and conducting other animal care and control activities. Local governments spend more than a billion dollars on animal care each year, as a complement to what private animal protection charities do, and it’s their duty to stem the flow of ill or genetically compromised animals and also to promote adoption, so they can relieve local agencies of the burdens of housing so many homeless animals.
So it’s great news on cockfighting and bestiality, but bad news for puppy mill dogs. Gov. Kasich, with a surgical signing and line-item veto, can give animal welfare advocates and animals a hat trick.