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Ohio's Puppy Mill Restrictions Could Set New National Standard

Minda Haas Kuhlmann

A legislative compromise aimed at reining in abuses by high-volume dog breeders while heading off a ballot effort to place puppy mill restrictions in the state's Constitution is headed to Gov. John Kasich.

Legislation satisfying terms of a deal struck between majority Republicans at the Statehouse and the Humane Society of the United States cleared the Ohio House last week, The Blade of Toledo reported. It had previously cleared the Ohio Senate.

State Rep. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), the bill's sponsor, said the Humane Society has agreed that if the bill becomes law it will keep further puppy mill restrictions off Ohio's ballot for 10 years.

"One of the major things, I think, that was important for many of us was that there was going to be a ballot issue on this this fall," he told House colleagues before the vote.

The Humane Society's push for a constitutional amendment responded in part to a state law passed last year that had the effect of negating ordinances in Toledo and the Columbus suburb of Grove City that sought to prohibit pet stores and other retailers from acquiring the dogs they sell from such breeders.

That law was championed by Petland, the global pet retailer based in Chillicothe, which has also gotten behind the compromise.

John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society's national Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, helped negotiate the deal. He said the hope is that Ohio's move to tighten requirements on pet stores and their suppliers will set a new national standard.

"We'll see how it plays out," he said.

The bill that's been sent to the Republican governor would require pet retailers or dog brokers to get a signed document from their suppliers attesting that they've complied with Ohio's standards of care for their animals, which relate to feeding, housing, veterinary care, exercise and human interaction.

"Ohio will be the first state in the nation to say that a sourcing requirement, (in other words) where sellers get puppies, will be taken into account as well as the conditions in which breeding dogs live," Goodwin said. "Ohio is one of the most populous states in the nation, and there aren't a lot of commercial dog breeding kennels in other states that meet these standards."

The compromise bill identifies a "high-volume dog breeder" based on the number of puppies sold, as opposed to the number of litters produced, as under current law. Under the legislation, a "high-volume" breeder is one that keeps six or more breeding dogs and either sells five or more a year to brokers or retailers, sells 40 or more directly to the public, or keeps 40 or more puppies younger than 4 months old at any given time that were bred on the premises.

The proposed law ties annual licensing fees to the number of dogs sold. They would range from $150 to $750. Civil penalties for violating the law would increase fivefold to $2,500 for the first offense and be doubled to $5,000 for subsequent violations.

Mike Gonidakis, a lobbyist for Petland, said no one viewed a constitutional amendment as the right course for the state.

"We put our differences aside and now we have legislation that we believe can be shopped around the country as the new standard in all 50 states," he said.