Change animal welfare law in Iowa

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Ali Iserman, guest columnist

Iowa has the second-largest number of USDA-licensed dog breeders in the nation, yet we’re one of the few states that do not also have state oversight. The USDA is under no obligation to report violations of our state’s animal cruelty statute when they encounter them in these facilities.

The two licensing requirements that Iowa does have are sufficient for keeping an animal alive, but they are not humane. As an example, cage-size requirements allow for dogs to be kept in cages just 6 inches longer than their length. Imagine a dog the size of a beagle living in a cage the size of a dishwasher.

Puppy mills are inhumane breeding facilities that produce puppies in large numbers. They are designed to maximize profits and commonly disregard the physical, social and emotional health of the dogs. The breeding dogs at puppy mills often live their entire lives in cramped, filthy cages. They are forced to breed repeatedly, producing litters of puppies that often have physical problems because of the poor conditions. These dogs rarely get the medical attention they need and often are killed once they stop producing puppies.

Puppies in mills are found with bleeding or swollen paws, feet falling through the wire cages, severe tooth decay, ear infections, dehydration, and lesions on their eyes, which often lead to blindness. Puppy mills might offer little veterinary care, climate control or protection for the animals from weather. With limited or no regulations or enforcement, puppy mills may have no cleanup control.

The problem is that USDA-licensees in Iowa are not overseen by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Of the top four dog-producing states, ours is the only one without state-level oversight. Without state oversight, we are unable to impose stricter guidelines that would ensure more humane treatment of the dogs in USDA-licensed facilities. Without this oversight, we are unable to ensure that our state’s animal cruelty statute is being enforced in these facilities.

I recently sent emails to state officials and got the same basic sentiment from all of them; they believe that the current laws are enough for the animals suffering in our state. The response from one senator in particular, made me very concerned for the welfare of Iowa’s future. Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, who said he has several large pet breeders in his district and that they appear to take great care of their dogs. “I imagine that with that many animals there would always be some violations,” he wrote to me in an email.

Unfortunately, the senator’s ideas on this subject simply are untrue. According to USDA data, at least 53 percent of Iowa’s breeders were cited for violations to the Animal Welfare Act last year. Iowa is far behind other states when it comes to animal cruelty laws.

An ordinance in New York requires commercial pet breeders to provide humane treatment and housing for dogs and cats, and provides for regular inspection of their facilities. One in Minnesota bans the keeping of more than 40 dogs and requires that no more than 10 of them may be intact females.

Counties in Arizona, Texas and Louisiana each have ordinances banning the sale of animals at swap meets and flea markets. California has ordinances that ban the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores. A county in Texas has an ordinance that requires pet shops to pay a processing fee for every dog or cat they sell who is not spayed or neutered. Iowa has no such ordinances.

As an Iowan and an animal lover, I am appalled that my state has the second worse animal protection laws in the nation — largely because of the fact that Iowa’s representatives support these inhumane practices.

Together, we can change the way this state treats animals. Write to your state and federal officials, get the word out about puppy mills, and mostly, don’t contribute to puppy millers by buying puppies from a pet store, through the Internet, classified ads, swap meets or flea markets. The best way to stop cruel puppy mills is to stop supporting them. If you’re planning on adding a new dog to your family, visit your local animal shelter or find a reputable breeder and insist on visiting their premises in person to see how and where your puppy’s mother is living. By patronizing a responsible breeder, shelter or rescue group, you can help defeat the inhumane puppy mill system that places profit above animal welfare.

• Ali Iserman lives with her husband, daughter and two rescued dogs in Mount Pleasant, where she has worked at the public library for more than eight years.

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