More than 5,500 dogs seized from Missouri breeders since start of ‘Operation Bark Alert’
By Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
The fact that the Missouri Department of Agriculture has confiscated thousands of dogs from neglectful commercial dog breeders in the past few years is proof that its oversight of the “highly regulated industry” is working, said a representative of the state’s farm bureau.
Kelly Smith, Marketing and Commodities Director of the Missouri Farm Bureau, told attendees at last year’s Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit that animal activists who came to the state in 2010 to push for a law to control “puppy mills,” or large-scale commercial breeders, deliberately did not mention what he described as an already-existing successful system to ensure animal welfare.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s website, since the launch of Operation Bark Alert in 2009, “more than 5,500 dogs have been rescued in Missouri [from unlicensed dog breeders].”
Smith alleged that the failure to make note of the state’s Operation Bark Alert program is just one of the examples of “smoke, mirrors, and deception” that The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare groups used “to basically tell a story that’s not true about the kennel industry in Missouri.
HSUS alongside other organizations battled to establish a law that they said would have improved the lives of the tens of thousands of dogs—many severely neglected ones among them—who are used to produce about a million puppies annually in the state’s 1,000-plus commercial breeding establishments.
The animal protection groups’ efforts succeeded—up to a point. Prop B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, requiring things like protection from extremes of heat and cold, veterinary care, regular exercise, and a limit of 50 breeding females per kennel, was actually passed by 51.6 percent of Missouri voters.
However dog breeding and agriculture lobbies fought tooth and claw to get Prop B overturned, and ultimately Gov. Jay Nixon replaced it with a different law that many called a thin, watered-down version of the one that voters had approved.
A few weeks later, across the country in Arlington, Virginia at the 2011 Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) ‘United We Eat’ Summit, Missouri Farm Bureau’s Smith provided his take on the Prop B story.
Animal Issues Reporter’s Katerina Lorenzatos Makris, who covered the AAA Summit, presents Smith’s version of the Prop B tale in her multi-part series: “Lessons learned in the ‘puppy mill capital of America’: The rise, fall and legacy of Missouri’s Prop B
Speech by Kelly Smith, Missouri Farm Bureau (Part 2)
(For Part 1 please see:
The Missouri Farm Bureau is… probably one of maybe two possibly three state farm bureaus that actually had a section in our policy booklet on kennels. A lot of our members are kennels and they also farm as well. But this is a very highly regulated industry and had been with our Animal Care Facilities Act that had been put in place back in 1992.
The problem is, the other side uses smoke, mirrors, and deception in all their pictures to basically tell a story that’s not true about the kennel industry in Missouri. So we had to basically put a new face on kennels, or [animal activists would] attack livestock organizations as well
As we moved on into this particular issue with dog breeders, they come from all walks of life. I mean, we have a lot of farmers that raise dogs, especially in our dairy belt, which is the south-central area and southwestern part of our state. That is, they’ve been [going out of] business over the last 15 to 20 years. The wife and even the husband have taken on a kennel operation to supplement their income so that they can stay on the land. Teachers, professionals, veterinarians, lawyers, I mean they come from all walks of life there.
‘The intent was to put dog breeders out of business’
The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act was the title of the ballot initiative. Now just look at the title of that. Is that not biased? As I said, “puppy mill” is a derogatory term to a dog breeder. The animal activists have put, any time you hear the term “puppy mill” now or “factory farm,” it’s been said enough that the consumer out here automatically thinks negatively when they hear those terms. And that’s the sole intent of the animal activists, is word recognition and basically getting us to think one way, the way that they want us to think.
But the Puppy Mill [Cruelty] Prevention Act did not go after the guys that were the problem in our state [unlicensed breeders]. They went after the licensed breeders of our state, who were the good guys, with unnecessary laws and regulations.
In fact, our Missouri Department of Agriculture, who is responsible for regulating and enforcing our Animal Care Facilities Act, said that there was not one kennel in the state of Missouri that could comply with the regulations in Prop B, not one, not even our blue-ribbon kennel level, which is the best of the best. Not a one of them at that point in time could comply with Proposition B.
So Proposition B was really not after better care of the dogs. The intent was to put dog breeders out of business. If they could take dog breeding out of the state of Missouri, what have they just done? They’ve eliminated 30 percent of the puppies across this nation as far as who are available for pets.
‘I do not like to use the word ‘rescued’—basically it’s raiding the dog kennel’
Proposition B did not go after the unlicensed breeder, the bad guy. We have a program called Operation Bark Alert our Department of Agriculture started about two years ago. It’s a 1-800 hotline, and basically that particular program is available for anybody to call in that suspects abuse of [sic] a dog breeder.
And that program was being used but the animal activists really didn’t want to tell people out here, especially in our urban/suburban areas, that program was there.
In just the first year and a half of that particular program, Operation Bark Alert had been effective. I do not like to use the word “rescued,” as the animal activists like to use when they go along [on law enforcement actions]. Basically it’s raiding the dog kennel, as far as I’m concerned. But over the last year and a half, 3,600-some dogs have been—in the Department of Agriculture’s terms—“rescued” because of Operation Bark Alert.
So we already had a program that was working and we did not need Prop B.
In fact, part of agriculture was not real active on this issue. Our governor did not want to be active on this issue because he knew it was a very contentious, emotional issue, so basically they sat on the sidelines. Our Department of Agriculture tried to be informational when they could, but didn’t really weren’t involved on agriculture’s side on this issue with them. We were disappointed in that.
And the thing about this particular ballot issue, it did not supply any type of funding that could help with enforcement of the proposition with that.
‘The dog breeders and farmers were basically fired up and ready to go to battle’
So what was the general response in Missouri with the ballot initiative? Basically, HSUS and other animal activist supporters were elated. They held big kickoff meetings across our state, they vowed to collect the appropriate number of signatures to put this on the ballot to win, and the first thing they always do is start dumping a lot of cash from their PAC [Political Action Committee] into this particular issue.
The general public, on the other hand, was just kind of blasé about this. It wasn’t a real big deal. A lot of them, they just did not pay attention, and they really did not pay attention until after this thing was certified in May of 2010, and was going to be on our ballot in November of 2010. However, on the other hand, the dog breeders and farmers across our state were basically fired up and ready to go to battle.
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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).