This Childish Fight

In 101 Damnations: Missouri Lawmakers choose politics over puppies. Veto the bill., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board does recommend that Governor Nixon veto SB 113, which I appreciate. But they also suggest that Nixon send the bill back to the lawmakers and the Prop B supporters to find a compromise to end this "childish fight".

This "childish fight", to repeat the phrase the P-D used, is a fight to ensure respect for the vote as much as it is to try to eliminate a known, extremely ugly problem in Missouri. If we, who support Proposition B, seem to balk at any discussion on "compromise", it's because most of the Proposition B folks have been working for this initiative for several years—only to have some representatives completely disregard it because, as was quoted in Fox News tonight, "We're going to set the agenda to what we want to get accomplished."

In addition, where do we compromise? The P-D editorial mentioned the 50 dog limit, so let's look at that.

Our rescue infrastructure is groaning under the number of dogs rescued from dog breeders. When breeders, especially larger ones, no longer need dogs they either dump them at auction where they might go for a buck or two, or they just plain kill them. The only option to give these dogs a decent life is to rescue them, but every year, we're drowned in a flood of misery covered in fur. We have too many damn dogs to take care of and having breeders with 200, 300, even up to a 1,000 dogs does nothing more than continually dump more and more dogs into services already overwhelmed.

(You know what's ironic is that the shelters and rescues are charged the same one dollar license fee per dog rescued, as commercial breeders are charged for selling a puppy. This little jewel was tacked on the last time people tried to get better conditions for dogs passed in the Missouri legislature. So the organizations most impacted by the increased ceiling fee from SB 113 are the shelters and rescues.)

What about the dogs that are still useful? Does the editorial staff at the P-D really believe the dogs get exercised every day? Get a breath of fresh air if they're housed in indoor kennels? Actually get looked at in a single day?

If the dogs in the larger commercial concerns are lucky, they have access to an automatic feeder and an automatic water dispenser that dispenses water when they lick a little metal ball. They may or may not have a small indoor kennel and a small outdoor kennel area with a door and flap between the two. Their bed will be on a solid surface, typically a piece of plastic or carpet, but the rest of the kennel is wire.

The breeders will shovel or hose out the feces and urine every day...if the dogs are lucky. If not, well, imagine the dogs' strong sense of smell and the overwhelming odor of ammonia—thick enough to send inspectors running from the kennels.

The dogs are bored because they have nothing to do, so they'll chew at the wires and boards of their cages, until their teeth deteriorate. The most common ailment for rescue dogs is rotten teeth. Many rescue dogs loose most or all of their teeth. I imagine the pain gets to be so bad that the dogs stop eating, which leaves them emaciated and prone to even more illness.

Speaking of which, if the dogs get ill, someone may or may not notice. If they're hurt, because their paw falls through the wire and gets broken, or they get poked in the eye with a loose wire, or maybe another dog in the same enclosure snaps and attacks it, someone may or may not notice. If the place is substandard, as many licensed places are, the breeder may have some left over ointment from when he was a hog farmer that he'll use. They always have ointment, and they always use ointment for any problem. Doesn't matter what ointment is, and doesn't matter for what problem.

What happens if the dog isn't noticed?

In inspection reports, you can read about inspectors pointing out dead dogs among the living and the breeder hadn't noticed because they had too many damn dogs.

So, if we're reluctant to compromise on the number of dogs, where else should we compromise? On the space?

Right now dogs can be in wire cages only 6 inches longer than they are. If two or more are housed together in a space that is the sum of their individual cage sizes, they don't even need to have a pretense of an exercise plan. Think of your kitchen cabinets and pick one in your mind that's just bigger than your dog. Now think of your dog living in that kitchen cabinet their entire lives—does this sound reasonable?

Should we compromise on the outdoor exercise area? The problem with the "exercise plan" in SB 113 and existing laws is that the inspectors can't verify that it is being followed. Seriously, how many people with hundreds of dogs are going to ensure they're exercised daily? However, when dogs have access to an outdoor exercise area, they can get fresh air, a change of scene, a little room to move about. Think about it: dogs with a little fresh air, and room to move about a little—does this sound unreasonable?

Perhaps the compromise is in the requirement for an indoor kennel area for every dog. No more outdoor-only dogs, living in thin plastic "dogloos" with a bit of straw for warmth. I wonder if the P-D has read any of the inspection reports where the inspector has noted that the weather was below freezing, and dogs were huddled and shivering. They note the same thing the next winter, and they note the same thing the winter after that.

I try to imagine what it's like for those dogs. They're in wire enclosures with a dogloo or half plastic barrel and, hopefully, some straw bedding. The dogloo or barrel is supposed to have a flap to keep the rain and snow out, but many don't. There might be a light at night, or not, and they lie there in the dark, and the cold. They'll be in this cage, in this plastic container on the straw, huddled into as small a ball as they can to conserve heat. If the straw is sufficient, they might be able to sleep through the night. If the straw isn't, they'll sleep fitfully, restlessly, shivering almost continuously.

yorkie looking out through wires with plastic dogloo in the background
Image from Tenderheart kennel, owned by Hubert and Sharon Lavy, from Columbia Missourian.

I have a hard time compromising on access to a warm indoor sleeping area for the dogs.

Oh, I have no problem with changing the wording on the sex of the dog for the breeding cycle, to ensure that it applies to females only. I have no problems with removing the existing definition about pets and replacing it with one for dogs only. But we're being asked to compromise on level of misery for dogs.

We're being asked to pick which level of misery is OK.