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Commission Debarks Puppy Mill Regs

Committee proposals for more humane measures fail

By Jordan Smith, Fri., April 6, 2012

Certain cage requirements were some of many regulations the TDLR loosened in its March 27 meeting.
Certain cage requirements were some of many regulations the TDLR loosened in its March 27 meeting.
Photo by Jana Birchum

When Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Hous­ton, took to a lectern at the Capitol last winter, she brought with her a stuffed dog. "We're into cats and dogs," she said, holding the toy in her arm as she announced the filing of a bill aimed at putting out of business "puppy mill" operations – large-scale breeding operations where animals are subjected to nonstop breeding cycles while living in unsanitary and otherwise inhumane conditions. The point was not to outlaw animal breeding, she made clear, but instead to ensure that large-scale cat and dog breeders conduct their businesses in a legitimate and humane way – in turn ensuring the sale of healthy and happy animals.

Now that the bill has passed and a set of regulations has been adopted, it remains unclear whether cats and dogs bred in the state will actually be living in more humane conditions.

The bill that passed required the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to appoint a Licensed Breeder Advisory Committee to propose a set of regulations for the department to adopt. The committee did its work, but after a marathon meeting March 27, TDLR commissioners voted 5-1 (the seventh was absent) to reject a number of key regulations worked out by the committee, including a regulation related to the size of animal cages; a requirement that flooring in those cages be, in part, made of solid materials; and a regulation that would require that certain "surgical procedures" – including declawing, ear and tail docking, and "debarking," or cutting a dog's vocal cords – be performed only by a licensed vet. Why the commission – save one member, LuAnn Roberts Morgan, a former member of the Midland City Council – rejected the recommended care standards is unclear. "I know what happened, but I don't know why," says Skip Trim­ble, a veteran Dallas attorney who serves as legislative chair of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. "For whatever reason, the animals have lost some quality of life for some time to come."

TDLR Commission Chair Frank Denton told his fellow commissioners that he thought the committee should go back and work more on these issues before the agency adopts any strict rules. He said he wasn't concerned that animals would be hurt by the current set of rules that are far less strict than those hashed out by the committee; at least the breeding industry will now have some rules to follow, he said. "If you look where we came from ... we're light-years ahead of where we were before." For more on this story, see "Better Than Nothing?," Newsdesk blog, March 28.

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