The timing could not have been better to give a nudge to necessary state legislation to improve regulations for the large-scale breeding of dogs in what have been called puppy mills. Police were called Monday morning about a barking dog in Waimanalo, and the Hawaiian Humane Society came to the rescue of more than 150 puppies and dogs at a commercial dog-breeding kennel.
What the Humane Society found at the kennel was glaring evidence that specific rules are needed to replace the presently broad, nonspecific state law against animal cruelty.
Veterinarians revealed that some dogs suffered eye problems, mange and hair loss as well as neglect with matted fur and long nails.
Dog lovers are understandably angry about the insensitive remark by Victor Bakke, the attorney for breeding facility manager Dave Becker, that the mature dogs are nothing more than "breeding machines."
Bakke added, "They’re filthy but these are not household animals. They are equivalent to farm animals. They’re being housed, fed and bred, and that’s basically all that’s required."
The Humane Society has investigated the kennel for more than two years and has issued warnings, but the kennel has been found in compliance with the weak Hawaii laws.
This time, the Humane Society is filing a petition that the owner be charged criminally.
The bill before the Legislature is patterned after laws enacted by 16 states requiring that large-scale dog-breeding operations be licensed.
They would be required to provide each dog under their care with basic food and water, shelter, veterinary care and enough space to turn around and stretch their legs, based on the dog’s size.
A licensee would be limited to no more than 50 dogs over the age of six months.
The issue was hotly fought last year in Missouri, the birthplace of more than one-third of dogs in pet stores nationwide. That state’s law was made at the November polls, with about 52 percent of the vote, and legislators now are arguing over a proposal to repeal the voter-approved restrictions.
The effort is being pushed by the Missouri Republican majority whip, whose mother happens to own one of what the Humane Society branded the "Dirty Dozen" puppy mills in Missouri.
Legislation has been proposed in Congress to set minimal standards of care for breeding dogs in puppy mills, which too often are forced to live their entire lives in small cages. The Humane Society notes that those dogs have little if any opportunity for exercise, socialization and human interaction.
The inspector general of the U.S. Agriculture Department issued a report last year criticizing the department’s inadequate oversight of dog dealers under the Animal Welfare Act.
Hawaii has been graded as one of the nation’s cruelest states to animals. It has the weakest penalties of all states for dog-fighting, and is one of the few states that have yet to classify cockfighting as a felony.
Tightening laws against appalling conditions in cruel puppy mills would be a positive step toward reducing inhumanity to animals.