Compromise is in the air about Proposition B/SB 113. Before now, the only parts of Proposition B I was willing to compromise on are associated with the sex of the breeding dog and breeding cycle, and the definition of "pet".
However, I am willing to make another compromise. I am willing to give up every last part of Proposition B—the 50 dog limit, the rest period, the vet visits, the space considerations, everything—for one thing: transparency.
We've heard from the defenders of SB 113 that most of the licensed breeders in the state have great places. Representative Loehner stated on the House Floor this week that most kennels are better than many childcare facilities. Well, then, showing these kennels to the world shouldn't cause any discomfort to the kennel owners. In fact, they should welcome this compromise, as it won't cost them a cent.
Here's how my compromise solution would work:
Governor Nixon would form a board from representatives of all the major shelters, pounds, and rescues in the state. This board would recruit and vet volunteers, who would then accompany the Department of Agriculture on their inspections.
The volunteers would be silent observers, only. They'd be allowed to take some photos, as long as doing so doesn't distract from the inspection duties. They would not be allowed to talk to the breeder, unless the breeder talks to them. They'll be civil, polite, and non-disruptive.
The observers will be able to publish their observations. In addition, the Department of Agriculture will also provide a publicly accessible database of all inspection reports, similar to what the USDA has with its APHIS system. All of the data that would be exposed is publicly accessible data. What the system would provide is easier public access—especially over the internet.
The observer would be under strict requirements: they must be quiet and non-disruptive. If they fail, not only would they not be able to observe again, they would be fined the cost for a re-inspection. In addition, the breeder would be guaranteed that no observer would accompany the inspector again for two years.
However, the breeder would also have to maintain decorum with the observer: no abusive behavior or language, or the inspector will cite them for non-cooperation.
In addition, every kennel that sells puppies online will need to include photos of its entire operation—kennel builders, dog cages, exercise areas, and any other facilities related to the kennel business. Right now, most large scale kennel operations post photos of puppies with cute little kids, but nothing showing the kennel facilities. I believe that every potential consumer has a right to know more about the operation, and the photos should provide the additional information.
The inspector will have to verify that the person has posted the photos along with the photos of the puppies. The inspector will also ensure that the photos posted are truly representative of the kennel business.
The kennels must also allow potential new puppy buyers to visit their operation. Right now, for most operations, the buyer is told to meet with the breeder at some remote location and exchange the puppy for the money—like the dog is an illicit drug. Potential buyers should be allowed to visit and see not only the puppy, but the puppy's parents, and the kennel in which the puppy was raised.
Too often when potential buyers ask to pick up the puppy directly at the kennel, they're told that they can't because of germs (which as any shelter and rescue will tell you, is hogwash); people have even been told that state or USDA law prohibits outside visitors to the kennel. This is not only inaccurate, it might also be considered consumer fraud.
We're told that the breeders must be protected. Well, the consumers have a right to be protected, too. They have a right to see for themselves the operation behind the puppy they're purchasing. They definitely have a right to know whether they're buying a puppy from a small show breeder, or a large scale dog farm.
To ensure against gawkers, the breeders could ask for a $100.00 deposit on the puppy, first, to ensure that the potential buyer is legitimate.
Lastly, the state must acknowledge the industry. Anytime the Department of Agriculture posts a report detailing the state of agriculture, it must include a reference to the fact that Missouri has the most large scale commercial dog breeding operations in the country. It must provide photos of the operations. When the Governor talks about us being the 5th largest seller of this product or that, he must also mention that we're the number one provider of puppies, both online and to pet stores.
Anytime the Department of Agriculture has public events celebrating Missouri agricultural industries, it must include material related to the large scale commercial dog breeding operations.
If the industry is so good, then our officials should tout it, every chance they get.
The Department of Agriculture must also provide better access to data, including how many people are employed by breeders in the state, and how much revenue do the breeders generate. The Department of Agriculture does this for egg farmers, so it shouldn't be difficult to do the same thing for large scale commercial dog breeders.
That's my compromise. It's simple and uncomplicated. It does require some changes in the law, including removing the statute that states representatives from animal welfare organizations may not accompany inspectors on their inspections. But in return, the breeders won't have to downsize or expand their cages.
All I'm asking for, is no more secrets.