Tuesday, 14 July 2009 20:00

Tennessee Commercial Breeder Act

On July 8th, Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee signed legislation meant to regulate mass breeding facilities. The state finally added a law in its books that requires breeders to give basic humane care to animals and be subject to inspections. The move shows a step forward in the fight against puppy mills and indicates a change in the public's opinion about the issue. Despite the efforts, the change won't eliminate the problem. Lawmakers aren't attempting to outlaw puppy mills, they are trying to regulate breeding facilities.

The bill was significantly weakened by several amendments and revisions. Originally, the proposition placed a limit of 75 intact dogs per commercial breeder which would only affect puppy mills since most reputable breeders are small scale operations. Also, the bill no longer authorizes confiscation of animals or criminal penalties, using civil fines of $50 to $1000 per violation instead.

One of the most important aspects of the law is that large scale commercial operations with more than 20 unsterilized female dogs maintained for breeding purposes must obtain a license from the Department of Health. It establishes that inspections are a prerequisite for licensure as well as abiding by new humane care standards for dogs and cats. The bill also holds the mass breeders accountable by forcing them to adhere to Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, which would allow people who bought sick dogs to seek legal actions against the puppy mill operators.

The bill was first introduced by state Sen. Doug Jackson after witnessing the conditions in a Tennessee puppy mill operated by Patricia Adkisson . The owner of the infamous Tennessee facility was charged with 24 counts of felony aggravated cruelty and nine counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. For more information about the bill, visit the http://www.animallawcoalition.com/companion-animal-breeding/article/68">Animal Law Coalition website or read the bill summary from the Tennessee government website
Despite the recent failure of the Texas legislature to pass a bill before the end of its session which would have required commercial dog and cat breeders to meet stricter health and handling requirements, citizen action has forced one abusive puppy mill to close.



Cloyce and Carol Heddins, owners of "Maggic Pets," operated a kennel so squalid that Dillon Steen, a former employee of Maggic Pets , says "I’ll never get those images out of my head of everything I saw out there." Steen describes Maggic Pets in decidedly unmagic terms: "If you went and voiced anything about concerns about eye colds or this one's limping it didn't matter as long as that dog could still breed that's all that mattered [. . .] Puppies would go to start dying and rather than them being taken to the vet they'd be thrown in an empty dog food bag and thrown in the back of a truck and just let lay there until they died."

A citizen activist who witnessed these abuses took the case to the Humane Society, who called the Heddins' puppy mill one of the worst cases they had ever seen in North Texas.

On July 17th, a Montague county judge ruled against the Heddins and ordered that their nearly 500 dogs be given into the care of the Humane Society of North Texas. The testimonies of veteranarians, investigators from the Humane Society, and of Montague County Sheriff Paul Cunningham all contributed to the judge's decision, who did not find the Heddins' argument that evidence obtained from a search warrant was invalid convincing. Moreover, the Heddins were ordered to pay $40,000 to HSNT for the treatment and care of the dogs, though many were ill enough that the sum is not likely to be enough to cover costs. Prosecutors in the case have requested that the dogs remain in the care of HSNT while they pursue criminal charges.

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