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Narrow victory for Prop B won't end puppy-mill fight

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 4, 2010 - Voters have spoken on Proposition B, but both sides involved in the dogged efforts for stronger regulation of puppy mills in Missouri vow to keep on going.

"We're on the watch for anything that would alter Proposition B," said Barbara Schmitz of the Humane Society of Missouri. "The proposition has been available for public view since last November. It's been debated and reviewed by all sorts of individuals across the state, and now the voters have had their say. We are moving forward and making sure that the implementation of new regulations is smooth."

Counters Karen Strange of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association:

"We think this is a total invasion by animal rights groups enforcing their agenda on the state of Missouri, especially outstate where they don't want it. We're going to continue educating the people who the Humane Society is and exactly what they are up to. They want to take out agriculture across the board. They can deny it all that they want, but that is clearly what they are out to do."

Proposition B won approval Tuesday by a vote of 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent. Support came primarily from the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, with the Bootheel counties of Dunklin and Pemiscot also voting in favor. The vast majority of outstate counties voted against the measure, which goes into effect next November.

The proposal requires large-scale dog breeding operations to provide certain conditions for the dogs under their care, including adequate food, water and shelter, proper veterinary care and enough space for them to turn around and get exercise. It would limit breeders to no more than 50 dogs. It does not apply to hunting dogs.

Those in favor of Proposition B cited surveys that called Missouri a puppy mill center; those opposed said the state already has sufficient laws and the Humane Society is trying to weaken agriculture in the state.

Now that the voting is over, the battle over the provisions of Proposition B is moving to Jefferson City, with questions over how it will be enforced and what changes may be sought in the Legislature before it takes effect. Christine Tew, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, which is charged with enforcing the law, said the department is just now beginning to review the requirements for implementation; with the effective date a year away, she said, officials will have enough time to get ready.

Strange, of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, said her group is not giving up despite the results of Tuesday's election. She would not be specific about what actions it is considering, but she said there are "any number of things that can be done."

"We need enforcement of what we have," Strange said. "We don't need more laws put together by out-of-state animal rights activists who are pushing their own agenda. We will never give up fighting this issue. We've been doing this for 20 years. We know their agenda. They can't hide from it."

Schmitz, of the Humane Society, said that now that her side's campaign has won at the ballot box, they are focused on the transition to the new law's requirements. They are calling on officials at the Department of Agriculture to ensure that the provisions of the new law are vigorously enforced.

She also said she expects lawmakers to respect the will of Missourians who approved Proposition B.

"Some changes may be proposed," she said, "but the realities are that voters have spoken on this issue.

"Thousands of people in this state stood in the cold, in the rain and in some cases in the hail to gather signatures from registered voters, and we passed this with hundreds of thousands of people coming out in support. We look at those numbers as a demonstration of great support for this issue. People in Missouri don't want to see dogs being mistreated."

Adds Bob Baker of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation:

"It would be very disappointing to see legislators change the will of the public. Everything we are hearing is return government to the people. It would be a total betrayal of the people if they would try to change it."

Baker said no increase in funds should be needed for enforcement of Proposition B since inspectors are already out there regulating dog-breeding operations. The new rules in many cases should make enforcement simpler, he said, because they are broader and would not require that officials be present over long periods of time to make sure breeding dogs are treated according to the law.

Strange, of the Pet Breeders Association, noted that most support for Proposition B came from the state's large urban areas -- a fact that she says ignores what she considers to be the Humane Society's real agenda, which is to regulate and limit agriculture in Missouri.

"Downtown St. Louis and downtown Kansas City decided this," she said, "when they don't even take care of any animals. They don't even know where their food comes from, and they want to dictate how to handle agriculture?"

But Schmitz, of the Humane Society, notes that similar arguments were made in 1998 when the group helped make Missouri one of the last states in the nation to ban cockfighting.

"During that campaign," she said, "individuals said it would impact fishing, it would impact rodeos, it would impact hunting and it would impact agriculture. During the last 12 years, none of things has happened. History has repeated itself here. They did not stick to the issue at hand. Instead, they have talked about issues that are not on the table and tried to use fear tactics."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.