By Aman Batheja
AUSTIN — Texas would begin regulating large-scale dog breeders to root out so-called puppy mills under a measure approved Tuesday in the House.
The measure passed 95-44 amid criticism that it would put unreasonable burdens on good breeders while doing nothing to stop bad actors from continuing to operate.
“It really establishes, and I don’t mean to be funny, a dog Gestapo,” said Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview.
The bill from Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would classify dog and cat breeders who have 11 or more unspayed females as “commercial breeders” and require that they be licensed by the state and undergo regular inspections and criminal background checks.
“This is not enforcing anything more than the humane treatment of animals and the protection of the consumer,” Thompson said.
For weeks, the bill has sparked fierce debate among many of the state’s breeders and some animal-rights groups. Breeders allege a conspiracy by groups like PETA to shut down every breeder in the country, one state at a time.
Several opponents of the bill stood in the House gallery sporting stickers that read, “Responsible Pet Breeders Say No to HB1451.”
“This law punishes the people it should be promoting,” said Martine Huslig with the Statewide Pet Education, Assistance & Rescue Programs. She said the proposed regulations are expensive and unreasonable and will force many responsible breeders out of business.
Among the concerns is that the measure would require the state Department of Licensing and Regulation to oversee inspections on commercial breeders every 18 months. Many home-based breeders don’t like the idea of having to let an inspector into their homes.
“They’re slowly but surely taking away personal property rights,” said Beth Turner, who breeds Labrador retrievers in Boerne. Since she has nine dogs, she doesn’t fall under the bill’s rules, but she predicted that lawmakers will try to broaden the bill in the future to cover smaller breeders.
Animal-rights groups like the ASPCA say the bill will make it easier for state and local officials to shut down inhumane breeders and allow licensed breeders to promote themselves as meeting the state’s standards. Jill Buckley with the ASPCA said Texas is one of the few states that have no laws regulating commercial breeding operations.
“We are hopeful the legislation will move quickly through the Senate and be signed by Gov. Perry before the session ends so that the dogs in Texas’ commercial kennels receive the humane care they deserve,” Buckley said.
Simpson and other critics said the state’s animal cruelty laws are already sufficient. Bad breeders “are not going to come and volunteer themselves to be licensed and registered or pay a fee,” Simpson said.