Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Tighten rules for dog breeders


Governments generally turn to regulating industries when a problem arises. Bradley International is now facing 153 charges for second-degree cruelty to animals for the dismal conditions in which it was breeding dogs. That case is sending a clear signal: State of Hawaii, we have a problem here.

Last week the Kaneohe District Court granted a continuance to the newly hired attorney for Bradley, but ultimately the prosecution seeks to apply a law passed in 2006 that makes enforcement of existing laws more practical.

If the judge agrees, the defendant will have the option to forfeit the dogs, now numbering around 220, including puppies born since the animals were seized in February. This would be the better course for the animals, which the Hawaiian Humane Society then could place in permanent homes. Otherwise, Bradley will be compelled to post a bond covering the cost of foster care for the dogs while the case is being judged, costs currently estimated at more than $240,000.

While this law is helpful, there needs to be a better way to ensure that dog breeding is a humane business, not a "puppy mill" in which care of the animals is handled on the cheap to maximize commercial gain.

The nonprofit Hawaiian Humane Society and other animal-protection advocates favored a bill that, once it's finally passed, should provide needed oversight of an unlicensed industry.

That measure, Senate Bill 1522, enjoyed broad support but was held in committee last session. The state auditor must first provide a "sunrise" review of any proposal to start up a new licensing scheme, so the Senate instead passed a concurrent resolution requesting that it do so.

This task is deserving of the auditor's attention. With a review in hand by the end of this year, lawmakers then could revive SB 1522 to prevent future cases. If it's passed as currently proposed, large-scale dog breeders — those breeding at least 25 dogs annually for sale — will face new requirements:

» Be licensed with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

» Document their breeding and caretaking practices.

» Agree to allow unannounced inspections conducted by the DCCA, its agents or other law enforcement officers.

This last element is important, because under the current law, police can inspect a facility but only after they have cause to do so. Hawaiian Humane Society officials said they were investigating the Bradley case for three years but it was only because of public complaints about dogs barking and trespassing that police were able to act.

The second-degree offenses are misdemeanors, but if Bradley is convicted, it will face penalties for each of the 153 counts, which are individually punishable by up to a year of jail time and a $2,000 fine. That would be a stiff penalty in this case, but checking for the humane operation of a breeding business clearly is a duty that should be performed as a matter of course and not by chance.

City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has said that his office plans to place a higher priority on these cases because, he correctly notes, animal cruelty often accompanies or precedes cruel behavior targeting humans. Those inclined to dismiss the importance of these cases should remember this linkage.

Animal protection groups tracking industry regulations nationally report that since 2008, 23 new state laws have been passed to crack down on puppy mills. Hawaii officials need to work hard to make sure that this state is, without too much more time lost, among them.

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