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Culver signs bill to crack down on puppy mills

DES MOINES – Gov. Chet Culver put dog breeding facilities that treat their animals inhumanely on notice Tuesday, signing a bill that allows state inspectors into facilities when they receive complaints.

The Legislature passed the bill after hearing details of animal abuse occurring inside so-called “puppy mills.” Activists said many animals used for breeding live nearly their entire lives in cages, sometimes without adequate food and water and veterinary care.

Culver said the vast majority of breeders, kennels, pet shops and animal shelters obey existing animal protection laws and have nothing to fear by the legislation.

“But to any facility currently operating as a puppy mill, or to those who raise companion animals in unhygienic and inhumane settings, now is the time for you to change course or pay the consequences,” Culver said.

He said the new law will not only protect animals, but provide assurance to families that the pets they adopt are healthy, clean and have been raised humanely.

Under the bill, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will now provide certificates of registration for breeding facilities, which Culver said could give peace of mind to families adopting a new pet.

Animal rights activists who have pushed for the law were on hand for the ceremony at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

They have complained that federally licensed breeding facilities were not facing enough scrutiny from federal agriculture inspectors. The legislation will allow state inspectors into those facilities to ensure the animals are not suffering because of inadequate food, water, shelter, veterinary care or grooming.

“Sounds pretty simple, but it’s something that we felt and saw the need for, time and time again in the state of Iowa,” said Tom Colvin, the league’s executive director.

Activist Mary LaHay of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals collected inspection data on the federally licensed facilities and shared disturbing stories of mistreated dogs housed inside of them with lawmakers.

LaHay said when she first started researching the issue, she was aghast at what she found. More than 27,000 dogs are in these facilities in Iowa with a majority of the facilities violating animal welfare laws, she said.

She pointed to a picture of Spirit, a terrier that was rescued from a puppy mill that was abused and ultimately had to be euthanized.

“She never saw a warm bed, never felt the grass under her feet, and it’s stories like that that kept me going,” LaHay said.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, championed the bill in the Iowa House, and said the issue crosses party lines.

“This is a great day for Iowa’s pets,” Lykam said.

Sen. Joe Seng, a Davenport Democrat and veterinarian who worked more than two years to get the legislation passed in the Senate, said it was a great feeling to see it signed into law with so many people in attendance.

“They’re as concerned about animal abuse as they are about child abuse and elder abuse,” Seng said.

Culver was joined at the bill signing by his family and their dog Buck, adopted from the rescue league. The governor encouraged all Iowans who are interested in getting a pet to get one from their local animal shelter.“Take it from me, you’ll be glad that you did,” Culver said.

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