For the past decade, attempts have been made to impose standards to govern dog breeding in Wisconsin, one of the few states without any laws in this area, other than federal regulations (see "Rescue Me," 3/8/09).
At the state Capitol today, lawmakers announced plans to introduce a new bill to license commercial dog breeders in Wisconsin. The Commercial Dog breeders Licensure Bill (PDF) will require all dog breeders selling over 25 dogs a year to be licensed.
The bill's sponsors, state Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) and Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls), hope the bill will weed out irresponsible breeders and halt the reputation that Wisconsin is gaining as a haven for puppy mills. They feel the revised bill avoids many of the problems that plagued previous attempts at passing this legislation.
The new bill sets the threshold for dog facility licensing at those breeders producing 25 or more dogs per year. The last attempt at legislation set the bar at 50, which was ultimately deemed to be too high. "Home breeders who produce one or two litters a year as a hobby" won't be affected, said Smith.
The bill will also require that licenses be obtained by people operating auctions selling over 50 dogs a year, an animal shelter housing at least 25 dogs a year, and animal control facilities under contracts with local governments. The goal is to curb shelters that are too large to care for their dogs properly and the growing phenomenon of false rescues that provide substandard care and may be trying to profit from dog sales.
Persons who provide foster care for dogs in their homes under the auspices of a licensed animal shelter will not need to get their own licenses.
"We want people to feel like they can trust that the puppy they buy is healthy" and was raised in a safe and caring environment, said Kreitlow.
The new bill requires inspections and approval of facilities before a license is granted, a key flaw in the last attempt. It does not have a "puppy lemon law" component to require sellers to take back dogs, a provision that complicated past legislation. And it covers only dogs, not other pets.
Dr. Yvonne Bellay, humane officer at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), was on hand at today's press conference. She affirmed that the bill would create new inspector positions, paid for with license fee revenues. The fees will start at a proposed $250 for those selling 25-50 dogs a year, said Smith. Animal shelters would pay $125.
Smith noted that other states where this type of inspection process is in place have been able to reduce fees after a few years, when the disreputable breeders have been put out of business and the breeding scene is under better control.
Other provisions of the bill cover minimum standards of care. Inspections would occur at least once every two years. Fines for breeders and shelters not bothering to get a license could be up to $10,000 or up to nine months in prison.
Others in attendance at today's press conference included Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), a longtime proponent of stronger laws in this area, and representatives of the . There were also two probable puppy mill survivors, including Boo, currently up for adoption at the DCHS.