Yesterday (January 25th) I witnessed “democracy” in action as members of the Missouri House Agriculture Policy Committee listened to what was supposed to be a public hearing on the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act passed by voters in November. The whole show was scripted and a ringer played the key role. Rep. Jason Smith introduced himself as an ex-officio member of the committee representing “the leadership.” One can only assume he means the Republican leaders of the House – or – the “leadership” of the Big Money Interests behind the attacks on the Humane Society of the United States. It’s hard to know for whom the Jason Smiths of this country work since the corporate moneybags and their minions in government enjoy an incestuous relationship that benefits both groups.
There have been at least seven bills so far introduced in the Missouri General Assembly to either repeal or seriously weaken the law passed by almost 52% of the voters in Missouri in November. Keep in mind that, when state reps and senators win by 52% of the vote, they consider it a landslide and the outcome of the election is never challenged. But, evidently, this same rule doesn’t apply when the old boys on the Ag Committee don’t get what they want. They obviously didn’t see the big neon signs flashing over their heads yesterday spelling out HIPPOCRITTERS.
Committee chair Tom Loehner (R-112) called the meeting to order exactly at noon and laid down the groundrules – no clapping, no booing, no outbursts, no spitting on the floor, (oops, sorry – I was caught up in the excitement of the moment.)
He asked for a show of hands how many for and against Prop B. The room was packed and an overflow crowd stood in the hallways. The count was easily 80% in favor of Prop B. Some of us wore buttons saying “Defend Prop B.” Some had stickers saying “The Voters Have Spoken.” Although the committee members were totally against Prop B and made that very clear, they had to face a room full of people who see them as stooges for corporate agriculture.
Chairman Loehner decided to start the hearing with HB 131 although two other bills were listed as being considered as well. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stanley Cox (R-118 which is the Sedalia area) went first and listed all of his reasons for hating the law passed by the voters. It’s hard to summarize his points because he spoke of “things” in the law that veterinarians wouldn’t support and how his bill, unlike Prop B, is based on “science.” His central concern seemed to be that using the term puppy mill wasn’t fair to legitimate breeders. Committee members asked Cox why he wanted to remove the section of the bill that says drinking water for the dogs had to be “debris free”? His answer was that, in his experience, dogs are messy and can get their food in their water bowls. How’s that for sound “science”??
Co-sponsor of HB 131, Chuck Gatschenberger (R-13) testified that he didn’t like the name “puppy mill” either and that the new law is an infringement on the right of breeders to make money and pay their bills. He and most of the committee members kept referring to dogs and puppies as “the product” to sell, and his point was that “legitimate” breeders (there’s that word again) would be put out of business. When all the breeders go bankrupt, they will lose their homes and have no way to support their families. Seriously.
Rep. Joe Aull (D-26) asked Cox why he wanted to increase the number of females being bred from 50 to 100. Cox said he just picked the number out of the air. Hmmmm……
The first outside witness in favor of HB 131 was Karen Strange of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners. She said her organization’s goal is to protect animal owners from the “animal rights movement.” She warned the committee that there is an insidious plot by animal activists to” change the face of agriculture”
This theme was repeated several times during the two hours of testimony. The Humane Society of the United States is the bogeyman in the eyes of opponents of our new law. First they come to protect puppies and dogs, but then they want free range chickens and some of those other crazy things that are going on in places like California (horrors !) Eventually, there will be no meat available to Americans and civilization will come to an end. No, really. This is what they believe, and I think the folks in the audience who hate Prop B honestly think this is what will happen to our country if we improve the care standards at dog breeding operations in Missouri.
Committee member Ed Schieffer (R-11) tried to get a handle on how many actual breeding operations there are in Missouri. He said he had heard there were a little over 1400 “legitimate” breeders despite the fact that the Prop B supporters keep saying there are over 3000 puppy mills in Missouri. The question came down to licensed vs. unlicensed breeders, but this is not as clear cut as it sounds either. Evidently,some licensed breeders prefer to ignore the care standards and just accept the warnings and citations by the state inspectors until they eventually just give up trying to be licensed. It’s kind of like people who own guns aren’t criminals until they shoot somebody. When asked whether licensed breeders could meet the new requirements in Prop B, Strange answered that she doubted any of them could meet the standards.
The first witness in support of Prop B and opposed to SB 131 was Tim Rickey, from Franklin County, who works for the ASPCA and has been in the animal protection business for over 20 years. He did a very good job of explaining the problem and why a citizens’ initiative was necessary to get Prop B passed. He offered the committee copies of reports from multiple sources describing the horrible conditions where animals suffer all their lives. He quoted from a Better Business Bureau report as well as reports by the state auditor’s office over the years and the Department of Agriculture’s own record keeping and summary reports. Rickey emphasized that it is not true that bad conditions exist only at unlicensed facilities. He also appealed to the committee members not to go against the will of the voters. The one thing I wish Rickey had offered was to take the committee members to one of the “dirty dozen” facilities unannounced. Only heartless zombies could visit one of those places and not be horrified.
Jason Smith, who would make a great prosecuting attorney, tried to get Rickey and other witnesses to restate their opinions by cross examining them with standard lawyer trickery. He reworded what witnesses said and then asked them if they really didn’t mean the opposite. Smith probably watches a lot of crime drama on TV and envisions himself as the star of the show. He even got one pro-Prop B witness to agree that the new law isn’t “perfect,” to which she replied “Nothing’s perfect.” Smith’s response was that the only perfect laws were those written by him. Being twice his age, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for his sophomoric performance – but it was a struggle.
Committee member Schieffer took plenty of time to hammer away at how much more it would cost the state to do inspections and enforce the new requirements, but that argument evidently doesn’t hold much water. The inspectors who currently work for the Dept of Ag would still do the same number of inspections, but they will have to look more carefully and not just call ahead and drop by for coffee.
The next witness in support of HB 131 was a veterinarian from, you guessed it, Neosho. In his little corner of the world, everything’s fine and dandy. There are no sick puppies being sold because he has to sign a health certificate for each one of them. Well, I certainly feel better, don’t you? Pros
ecutor, er….Rep. Smith got into some crazy conversation with this vet about the necessary body temperature for a puppy to survive. The vet wasn’t sure where that question was headed, so he demurred. But, thanks to the all night research by Rep. Smith, we learned that a puppy’s body temperature has to be at least 90 degrees for survival. But, OMG, the new law says the temperature in the kennels can’t exceed 85 degrees. And all those poor puppies will die. (No, I’m not making this up.)
By now, you, dear reader, have figured out that the whole show was a circus and the clowns were the center attraction. All of the comments and questions from committee members were slanted against Prop B and in favor of either repealing it or gutting it to make it useless. But keep in mind this is the Ag Committee. Many of the members have dogs or used to have dogs and know all there is to know about raising animals. And they don’t need no new-fangled care standards that probably are a conspiracy against good patriotic Missourians. Oh, please.
Dr. Julie Brinkman, a veterinary with the Humane Society of Missouri, reminded committee members that the new law addresses care of ADULT dogs that produce puppies. She explained that a female who is bred every cycle is feeding puppies for four out of every six months. Her body is feeding them inside her and then by the milk she produces. Her body does not have time to recover between litters and she loses her teeth, muscle mass, and eventually the ability to survive. (You don’t even want to know about how some breeders put female dogs in slings who can’t stand up anymore so they can inseminate them.) Every woman in that hearing room who has had children could have added her own testimony about how pregnancy and nursing takes its toll on the mother.
Not to be upstaged, Rep. Smith asked Dr. Brinkman if the new law referred also to males when it says a “dog” can be bred only twice in 18 months, Choke, choke. Was he asking whether male dogs would be allowed to have sex only twice in 18 months or did he actually not know that male dogs can’t get pregnant?? I, being a retired English teacher, could have explained that the word in that sentence referred to the antecedent in the previous sentence, but Rep. Smith wasn’t really interested in understanding the provision in the law. He was clowning around in an attempt to get Dr. Brinkman flustered and to agree that the law was not perfect. Did I say “sophomoric”? Maybe middle school mentality fits better.
The star witness for the prosecution was Leslie of the Missouri Farm Bureau. She is on a first name basis with all the committee members so no need to look her up. They all thanked her profusely for coming, “good to see you again, ” etc. I’m sure if the committee members could have reached her from their high perches they would have given her a big hug. I wonder if part of the kissing up thing has to do with candidate endorsements? No, probably not.
Leslie really spelled out the “hidden agenda” of the animal rights activists. She pandered to provincial fears by mentioning those evil creatures who live on the East Coast and West Coast and how they are behind this whole takeover thingy. Booga Booga ! She went on and on about all the money for Prop B that came from out of state. Oh, excuse me while I bring up some unpleasant facts. If we’re going to “follow the money,” let’s follow it right back to the Center for Consumer Freedom.* I posted something about this last year.
Bob Baker, Executive Director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, explained the need for an upgrade in care standards at dog breeding facilities. He helped write the 1992 law which is the current standard and explained that it provides only for the “survival” of the animals, not “humane care.” He gave an example of one of the loopholes some breeders use. The temperature requirement is written into the current law, but it says the temperature can’t be too cold or too hot for more than four hours. Inspectors call ahead, breeders change the thermostat or hide dogs they don’t want the inspectors to see. Even if the inspectors don’t call ahead, breeders can just change the temperature while the breeder is there and change it again when he leaves. The inspector, obviously, isn’t going to stand there for four hours.
Baker quoted the BBB reports again and made the point that improved care of animals will actually enhance the breeding business. And it would be a vote of confidence to dog owners if they knew that Missouri was cleaning up its act. It would enhance our reputation if we could shake the “puppy mill capital” image.
Jason Smith (again) spoke up and tried to get Baker to say that shelters and rescue groups should have to provide the same care standards that breeders will be required to provide. Baker tried to explain that shelters offer temporary housing and take good care of their animals. (Personal story: I visited the Franklin County Humane Society unannounced and saw a volunteer playing with a dog in the “play room.”)
Despite twisting Baker’s words and grilling him like a criminal, Smith was not able to wear the man down. Good for you, Bob !
Time was running out, but committee member Schieffer couldn’t help tossing one last grenade at the witness. He attacked Baker’s credibility and accused him of talking in “generalities.” If that’s their best ammunition, we shouldn’t have too much to worry about.
CCF is one of the more active of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. Based in Washington, D.C., Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. Hotels, motels, restaurants, bars and taverns together comprise the “hospitality industry,” which has long been cultivated by the tobacco industry as a third party to help slow or stop the progression of smoke free laws. CCF actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of meat & dairy, processed food, fatty foods, soda pop, pharmaceuticals, animal testing, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the “nanny awards” to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives. Anyone who criticizes any of the above is likely to come under attack from CCF. Its enemies list has included such diverse groups and individuals as the Alliance of American Insurers; the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; the American Medical Association (AMA); the Arthritis Foundation; the Consumer Federation of America; New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the Harvard School of Public Health; the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems; the National Association of High School Principals; the National Safety Council; the National Transportation Safety Board; the Office of Highway Safety for the state of Georgia; Ralph Nader’s group, Public Citizen; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) When CCF went under the name of Guest Choice Network, its purpose was to enlist operators of “restaurants, hotels, casinos, bowling alleys, taverns, stadiums, and university hospitality educators” to “support mentality of ‘smokers rights’ by encouraging responsibility to protect ‘guest choice.'” According to a year end budget, Guest Choice planned to spend $1.5 million during its first 13 months of operation, including $390,000 for “membership marketing/materials development,” $430,000 to establish a communication center and newsletter (which Berman promised would have a “60% to 70% smoking focus”, $110,000 to create a “multi-industry advisory cou
ncil,” and $345,000 for “grassroots network development/operation.”