Oregon’s “Puppy Mill” bill: ineffective and wrongly aimed

In an earlier post I discussed some of the problems I see with two bills now in the Oregon legislature, HB 2470 the supposed anti-puppy mill law, and HB 2852 which is ostensibly aimed at increasing public safety from “dangerous dogs”.

The latter bill may be dead, and that is a good thing. But HB 2470 lives on, and I have closely examined the available version and have more to say about why it should also be forgotten. [I am still commenting on the original version. I have heard that changes have been made in committee but apparently the text of those changes is not available to the public. However, the bill is so fundamentally flawed that it would need to be rewritten completely to become both effective and beneficial, in my opinion, and I doubt that that has happened.]

What’s wrong with Oregon’s “anti-puppy mill” bill

We already have the laws needed to shut down puppy mills

Oregon animal cruelty laws currently contain requirements which would put puppy mills out of business, if enforced.

 (6) “Minimum Care” means care sufficient to preserve the health and well-being of an animal and, except for emergencies or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the owner, includes, but is not limited to, the following requirements:

(a) Food of sufficient quantity and quality to allow for normal growth or maintenance of body weight.

   (b) Open or adequate access to potable water in sufficient quantity to satisfy the animal’s needs. Access to snow or ice is not adequate access to potable water.

   (c) For a domestic animal other than a dog engaged in herding or protecting livestock, access to a barn, dog house or other enclosed structure sufficient to protect the animal from wind, rain, snow or sun and that has adequate bedding to protect against cold and dampness.

   (d) Veterinary care deemed necessary by a reasonably prudent person to relieve distress from injury, neglect or disease.

   (e) For a domestic animal, continuous access to an area:

    (A) With adequate space for exercise necessary for the health of the animal;

    (B) With air temperature suitable for the animal; and

    (C) Kept reasonably clean and free from excess waste or other contaminants that could affect the animal’s health.
[ORS Chapter 167 – Offenses Against Public Health, Decency and Animals. 167.310 Definitions for ORS 167.310 to 167.351. As used in ORS 167.310 to 167.351]

I’ve never heard of a puppy mill that could come anywhere close to meeting these requirements. Hard to make a profit following those rules. Yet the existing criminal law has not been effective in ending puppy mills in this state. Why not?

1. Puppy mills hide in rural areas.
2. There is no funding for enforcement.
3. There is apparently no requirement for licensing of breeding establishments, so their location can remain unknown to authorities. Without licensing, there is no possibility of a regular inspection program like that for, say, food-handling establishments; and of course there’s no funding for such an inspection program either. Hence enforcement of the existing law depends on law enforcement rather than inspectors. Unless violations are reported by a witness or are visible from outside the property, law enforcement may not be able to enter the premises legally.

So what do we need? To do it right, licensing of breeding facilities (at a nominal cost), and funding for inspection. A couple of the provisions in HB2470 would provide some help, notably the requirement that “puppy dealers” provide purchasers with written documentation about the health, and origin of the dog––but the negatives in the bill far outweigh the positives. And “puppy dealers” as defined in the legislation wouldn’t apply to pet stores which sell the product of puppy mills!

HB 2470 is wrongly aimed

As far as I can tell, it systematically exempts pet stores, the main sales points for puppy mill “product”, from the standards of care and the health and documentation requirements, as well as from responsibility if a puppy turns out to have a health problem. The bill distinguishes between a pet store

SECTION 1. (1) As used in this section:

(b)(A) “Retail pet store” means a retail establishment open to the public that sells, or offers to sell dogs.
(B) “Retail pet store” does not mean a person that sells or offers to sell only dogs:
(i) That were bred or raised by the person; or
(ii) Are kept primarily for the purpose of reproduction.

and a pet dealer

SECTION 2. As used in sections 2 to 12 of this 2009 Act:

(3)(a) “Pet dealer” means a person that during a 12-month period sells, offers for sale, barters or exchanges more than the greater of:
(A) Twenty dogs; or
(B) Three litters of dogs.

All the subsequent requirements of the bill apply to pet dealers and not to pet stores.

Pet stores are not required to provide documentation to buyers giving the mill-produced puppy’s vet record, name and address of breeder or broker, and a guarantee of current health. Why not? What possible justification can there be for this?

HB 2470 also exempts pet stores from the “lemon law” portion of the bill. This part requires breeders, but not pet stores, to reimburse pet owners for dogs that have certain problems within two years of purchase. Sometimes that would be fair. But it makes the seller responsible for any “disease, illness or condition adversely affecting the health of the dog that existed in the dog before or at the time the customer acquired the dog”, or “a congenital or hereditary defect adversely affecting the health of the dog or requiring hospitalization or nonelective surgical procedures”. There is no provision here as to whether the condition or defect could reasonably have been known to the seller. The most careful screening of breeding stock, whether of a pure-bred dog or a cow or horse, cannot rule out every single genetic (hereditary) defect. Similarly, a puppy from a responsible breeder can receive all vaccinations, be checked by a veterinarian, and still possibly have some undetected condition that will affect its health in future.

Exemption of pet stores makes a mockery of the claim that the bill is aimed at shutting down puppy mills. Reducing demand, from the pet stores, is crucial to making puppy mills less profitable. Instead, those most affected will be the responsible breeders who are most easily located, not the secretive puppy mills, whether in Oregon or in the Midwest, which hide behind brokers, internet sales, and pet stores.

Unintended consequences

For boarding kennels:

”SECTION 1. …(2) A person may not possess, control or otherwise have charge of at the same time more than 25 sexually intact dogs that are four months of age or older.”

Foreseeable consequences

I’m not going to get into the motivations of some of the supporters of this bill, including allegations that it is part of PETA’s agenda to eliminate the “animal slavery” of pet ownership by driving breeders out of business. But it is predictable that HB 2470 will have far more effect on responsible breeders than on puppy mills. The responsible ones are out in the open, easy to find, unlike puppy mills. You are much less likely to have a problem with a dog from a responsible breeder, few of whom make a profit from their hobby. These breeders welcome potential puppy buyers to their homes to see the parents of the puppies, to interact with the puppies before they are 8 weeks old and ready for new homes, and to watch puppy temperament testing; they also choose male and female carefully when planning a breeding, with specific goals for the breed, do testing (genetic, x-ray, etc.) so as to avoid breeding dogs that carry heritable defects, and keep extensive records on their dogs.

An article in the Oregonian featured a woman who had purchased a puppy which turned out to have severe health problems due to bad care and bad breeding. That is a heartbreaker for the owner and the dog. But she bought it from a broker. Try to find that broker, probably in another state, and get him to comply with the bill’s “lemon law” provision. So, how much of the problem of true “lemon” puppies will be addressed, and how many good local breeders will be harassed by owners when a problem develops months or years later? I can leave my puppy outside 23 hours a day, and when it turns into a barking unsocialized dog, claim that it had an inherited genetic defect causing this behavior. Under the law, there’s no provision for evaluating claims against breeders.

I have some personal experience over two decades with breeders of two different dog breeds. They taught me right away that it is not simply a transaction to them: they decide if my household is suitable for one of their puppies, they require spaying or neutering to keep ill-bred or surplus pups of their breed out of the shelters and out of the wrong hands, they urge me to keep in touch and call with questions, they have me sign a contract which includes notifying the breeder if I can no longer keep the dog––even if it is 10 years later––so that they can accept it back for placement in a suitable home.

What happens at a pet store if I go in and buy a puppy? None of this, that is for sure! Those “doggies in the window” are there for a reason, to promote impulse buying of a live animal which will be a serious commitment for a decade or more. Pet store employees have no reason to talk a customer out of buying, say, a high-energy pup when the person says they want a quiet couch potato to watch tv with. If those cute puppies go unsold too long, they certainly do not go back to the breeder for placement; they get dumped or drowned or sold out out of the back of a truck. Yet this industry isn’t required to change one bit by HB 2470.

I know not all AKC breeders are so responsible as the ones I have dealt with and known. I have some ideas about that, which I’ll put in another post. But to burden this group with new legal restrictions under the guise of shutting down puppy mills, while exempting the pet stores which market the pups bred under cruel and unhealthy conditions, this makes no sense. And the lack of funding for enforcement ensures that breeders out in the open will be the actual subjects, while the unspeakably vile and carefully hidden puppy mills continue to grind out misery.


In the couch potato class, our beloved English Mastiff Bart was a champion, as in all else. We lost him in February to consequences of old age (he was 11 and a half).



3 thoughts on “Oregon’s “Puppy Mill” bill: ineffective and wrongly aimed

  1. What ever happened to HB 4270? I bought two kittens from a breeder in Oregon and both kittens had congenital defects. The breeder has done this to another buyer and I am hoping Oregon does something to protect pet buyers because breeders and pet stores are getting away with way too much.

  2. Jessica,
    I’m sorry to hear of your experience with the kittens. Such irresponsible breeding brings suffering to people and animals.

    Unfortunately, HB2470 deals only with dogs. It is being pushed through as an anti-puppy mill measure and, while I am sure there are kitten-mills as well, they seem to be much less common or at least less known.

    The bill has progressed through the Oregon House and is now under consideration by the Senate. There have been some amendments but the part that bothers me the most has as far as I know not been changed. That is the special treatment for pet stores. Individuals, defined as “pet dealers” , must provide documentation when selling puppies (health records, ID of parents, etc.);meet specific requirements as to enclosures, exercise, etc.; and pay vet bills and/or exchange/refund money for, puppies who turn out to have a “defect” or disease. Pet stores only have to provide documentation to the buyer, not meet the specified standards of care & housing, nor assume any financial responsibility for puppies with disease or defect.

    Since pet stores and brokers (often online these days) sell most of the products of puppy mills, it makes no sense at all to exempt them from being responsible for what they sell.

    When I was young and ignorant, I bought a puppy from a breeder on the other side of the country who advertised in a dog magazine, and the puppy proved to have hip dysplasia and was temperamentally unstable. The breed was an uncommon one so I do not think that the place was a puppy mill per se—not churning out dozens or hundreds of puppies per year—but certainly was an irresponsible breeder. The breeder never answered my inquiries once the dog had arrived.

    For me the lesson was to be much more informed about such things and not get a pet sight unseen. You just cannot know what you are getting or who you are dealing with, when you haven’t seen the place and the animals, unless you do a lot of background work. You can join an e-list for the breed, get recommendations from breed organizations (these exist for every dog breed, and no doubt for cat breeds as well) and take your time. This is all so easy to say after the fact!

    Through legislation and enforcement, we *can* lessen these problems of bad breeding, mistreatment, and so on, but the current legislation puts all the burden on breeders who are not the main problem, ones who sell to people locally and are there for prospective owners to visit.

    In addition there needs to be a lot of education of the public to make everyone aware of how to make a good decision when getting a pet, what care and commitment are required, and that irresponsible breeding is dangerous (when it produces dogs with unstable temperaments) and causes great pain to people and animals.

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