LINCOLN — A proposed state law that would require commercial dog breeders to exercise their dogs at least twice a day, breed animals less often and provide larger cages for them brought howls of protest Tuesday from many breeders.
Professional breeders — some of whom care for up to 200 breeding dogs and 550 puppies at a time — said new regulations were unnecessary and would put economically stressed breeders out of business.
Judy Williamson, who operates a kennel near Alma, Neb., said her operation is already inspected up to six times a year by the federal and state governments, the American Kennel Club and a veterinarian.
“Seriously, do you feel we need more regulation?” she asked.
Proponents say that current state laws are inadequate and that more humane treatment is needed so puppies are healthy, socialized and make good pets.
“The sad reality is that the majority of breeding dogs in Nebraska live their entire lives in a cage so small they can only sit, stand, lie down and turn around — for their entire lives,” said Judy Varner, president and CEO of the Omaha-based Nebraska Humane Society.
State Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue, a leading proponent of animal welfare in the Legislature, introduced the proposal, Legislative Bill 427.
A large crowd, some wearing “Yes 427” buttons, overflowed a State Capitol hearing room for the latest debate on state regulation of dog breeders.
There also was debate on whether LB 427 was inspired by an animal-rights group, the Humane Society of the United States.
That group has drawn criticism from state agricultural groups that decry the Humane Society’s opposition to tight gestational crates for breeding sows in hog-confinement buildings.
Proponents said repeatedly that the Humane Society had nothing to do with the drafting of the bill.
“This is a bill for Nebraskans, by Nebraskans,” said Mick Mines, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Humane Society.
Varner said the bill has regulations that “the vast majority of Nebraskans would support.”
That includes requirements that breeders keep accurate breeding records on every dog and that a veterinarian inspect each dog at least once every three years.
Other Humane Society representatives said they regularly see teeth and gum problems in dogs from commercial kennels, and that many are so poorly socialized that they end up being abandoned by frustrated owners.
Diana Pankonin, who operates a commercial dog kennel near Grant, spoke in favor of LB 427. She said she regularly exercises her animals, provides exercise pens for them and socializes them with other dogs and people.
“We need to remember we’re raising pets, not pork chops,” said Pankonin.
Dog breeders who oppose the bill said that they are responsible operators and that the horror stories about “puppy mills” come not from licensed breeders but from unlicensed operations that sell dogs privately.
Casey Schaaf, who operates a large dog breeding facility near Atkinson, estimated that the exercise requirement in LB 427 would cost him $30,000 a year in extra labor costs, moving dogs to and from exercise areas.
Schaaf said that while there are some “bad apples” in the industry, he consistently gets clean inspection reports from state and federal inspectors.
The Agriculture Committee took no action on LB 427.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, the committee chairman, said it would be a week or two before the panel decides whether to advance the bill to the full Legislature.
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