Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bill to regulate dog breeders draws opposition inside chamber from industry rep

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 10:21 AM

click to enlarge TO THE RESCUE: One of the dogs rescued by humane workers last week at a Warm Springs puppy mill. A representative of the dog breeding industry who sits in the House is fighting a proposal to regulate such operations.
  • TO THE RESCUE: One of the dogs rescued by humane workers last week at a Warm Springs puppy mill. A representative of the dog breeding industry who sits in the House is fighting a proposal to regulate such operations.

MARCUS RICHMOND: Opposes bill that would regulate industry he represents.
  • MARCUS RICHMOND: Opposes bill that would regulate industry he represents.
Rep. Jim Sorvillo of Little Rock has told KTHV he will propose a bill to regulate dog breeders. Arkansas is infamous for its shoddy puppy mills, with grim raids on filthy kennels full of dead and dying animals seemingly a regular occurrence. Such as just last week in Warm Springs.

But as animal cruelty wars of past years proved, the minute somebody starts talking about protecting dumb animals, a lobby will arise to defend the abusers or potential abusers. The Farm Bureau famously stands in the way of most legislation to improve the quality of animal life.

Don't know where the Farm Bureau stands on protecting puppies, but I know one organization has already surfaced with dire warnings about the puppy mill legislation. It's called America's Pet Registry, which has a benign ring.

That organization describes puppy protection as an assault by the evil Humane Society of the United States on more than dog breeders. It quotes Rep. Marcus Richmond, a Republican from Harvey:

"Proposed legislation in the Arkansas House is fueled by the HSUS. Agriculture and hunting in our state must not be influenced by an Animal Rights extremist agenda."

And Richmond ought to know. He is — ta da — president and CEO of America's Pet Registry. It says it has animal welfare in mind. But it has existed since 1992 to provide a stamp of approval for breeders who don't follow American Kennel Club protocol. Web commentators say it is a front for the commercial dog breeding industry. For example:

When you register your dog with APRI, your dollars are going to support the people that continue to breed in mass quantities despite the problems of severe pet overpopulation. Your money is used to pay lobbyists to fight Breeding Legislation that is intended to make the industry more humane in their treatment of the animals in their care, and crack down on puppy mills. Your money will be used to lobby for the inclusion of canine breeding stock as LIVESTOCK in some states in support of the puppy mill industry. In Iowa, this recently came to a head and was defeated, but can and will likely be brought up again. Livestock are not required to have shelter at all, and there are tax benefits to dog breeders becoming livestock producers.

Is a sitting member of the Arkansas House actually a lobbyist for the commercial dog breeding industry? Of course not. The ethics law doesn't allow this. Might he have a financial interest in the outcome of the legislation he's strongly opposing? 

In this legislature, it would be par for the course. The conflicts are too numerous to count and rarely directly disclosed in statements filed in the House and Senate. As one legislator told me the other day when I inquired about some technical bills he was carrying that affected people he has done business with, he essentially said, "1) Everybody knows what I do. And 2) Who knows the topic better?"

Here's what Sorvillo said he had in mind in talking to KTHV. No mention of agriculture or hunting.

The bill would require dog breeders to pay an annual licensing fee and undergo health and safety checks from a veterinarian. "As states have started to regulate this, these puppy mills have actually moved from state to state," Sorvillo said. "They end up in Arkansas because we haven't had any type of oversight."

A moment of contradiction: Jim Sorvillo, a small government Republican, wants to regulate dog breeders. But he's not so worried about tooth decay as sponsor of the bill to give local control on fluoridation.

I've sent some questions to Richmond about his work.

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