As 2011 comes to a close, we look back on a year of many challenges for responsible dog owners, sportsmen, fanciers and breeders. The AKC Government Relations Department (AKC GR) had another record-breaking year in the number of canine legislative proposals and regulations introduced at all levels of government. AKC GR reviewed, monitored and/or acted on nearly 1,300 federal, state, and local legislative measures as well as a number of regulatory issues.
2011 Federal Review
As in previous years, AKC carefully monitored federal PUPS legislation (H.R. 835 / S. 707), which was re-introduced in late spring. Strong organized interests in support of the measure have garnered many co-sponsors for the bill, but no hearings have been scheduled. AKC has registered a number of concerns with the measure as currently written, including an overly broad definition of “high volume breeder.” AKC maintains contact with key federal lawmakers to ensure that the concerns of responsible owners and breeders are heard.
On the regulatory front, AKC has been strongly supportive of federal import regulations proposed in September (7 U.S.C. Section 2148) that would prohibit the importation of puppies into the United States for resale, research or veterinary treatment, unless the dogs are in good health, have received all necessary vaccines, and are at least 6 months of age. The AKC recognizes that a large number of puppies are being bred overseas and imported into the United States in order to bypass the welfare regulations and standards required of American breeders. In many cases, irresponsibly bred and undocumented foreign puppies end up at shelters, rescues or other informal or unregulated retail venues. Diseases borne by such animals can create public health issues for both animal and human populations. AKC supports the proposed regulations and believes they will help prevent the dumping of young puppies from facilities of unknown quality on American markets.
2011 State Review
Major topics of bills impacting dog breeders included breeding restrictions, licensing, kennel regulations, consumer protection measures, and spay/neuter requirements. AKC GR also observed an increase in the number of bills that would establish animal abuser registries (25 such 25 bills were introduced in 14 states). Included among “other bills” were animal issues and provisions not detrimental to dog owners, but which demonstrate the interest that lawmakers are taking in animal legislation.
The most common legislative topic AKC GR monitors is animal cruelty. Over 25% of the measures introduced (a total of 285 bills) addressed animal cruelty. This is up from 19% of bills addressed in 2010. It’s important to note that the term “cruelty” can be misleading, as we have observed a broad range of definitions proposed in legislation. The AKC believes that the term animal cruelty indicates the intention to do harm and is a very serious crime. The AKC supports strong enforcement of existing cruelty and negligence laws. AKC GR reviews proposed measures regarding animal cruelty that range from reasonable proposals that legitimately address a community’s needs to unreasonable measures that ill-advisedly elevate accidental circumstances or conditions or situations not directly harmful to a dog (such as rust on fencing) to the level of cruelty. As with other issues, AKC GR looks at each bill individually, in the context of existing law and a community’s needs, before commenting or advising on it.
Other key topics monitored by the AKC include service dogs (up slightly from 2010), animal control (down from 2010), veterinary services (up from less than 1% in 2010), dangerous dogs (down by 1%), and breeding restrictions (down to less than 5% of total state bills from 11% in 2010).
Following disappointing outcomes on breeder measures in Missouri (Ballot Proposition B) and Oklahoma (SB 1712) in 2010 and Texas (HB 1451) in 2011, AKC GR expanded assistance to dog owners and their communities by participating in the state-level regulatory processes. AKC advised and provided recommendations and comments on establishing rules that would respect the needs, concerns and rights of responsible dog owners while fairly and accurately reflecting the purpose of the new statutes.
2011 Federal and State Measures (Combined)
AKC GR has also seen instances where municipalities have sought to pass legislation more stringent than that passed in state law. Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, attempted to define a “commercial breeder” as anyone who possessed a single intact female dog, even though state law defines commercial breeders as those who own 11 or more intact females. Although the number of bills proposing breeding restrictions declined at the state level, they increased by 10% at the local level.
Breed-specific legislation continued to dominate all other local dog issues, accounting for more than one-third of the local measures addressed by AKC GR. Local dog owners successfully opposed breed-specific measures in numerous communities and instead recommended the enactment of laws that hold all dog owners accountable for the actions of their dog, regardless of the breed or physical appearance of the dog. These successes demonstrate the importance of providing positive educational messages and reasonable alternatives to harmful proposals.
Breeding restrictions were the second most frequently introduced measures, with animal limit laws coming in third. An allied area of concern is zoning restrictions. Legislation that defines residences or property as “kennels” based on the number of dogs owned or puppies produced is particularly problematic when combined with zoning restrictions that may limit or deny kennel permits in certain areas. All dog owners are encouraged to become familiar with the prevailing zoning codes and the process by which code changes are implemented.
AKC GR continues to rely on legislative liaisons, federations, clubs and dog owners to monitor city and county commission agendas and local media and to advise AKC GR staff when local dog legislation is introduced. Legislative liaisons serve as an informational link between their communities and AKC GR. If your AKC club does not already have a legislative liaison please consider appointing one or becoming one yourself.
Colorado - Senate Bill 11-009 sought to make significant changes to the impoundment laws and the ability of owners to get their animals back if they are seized during a cruelty investigation. This included changing the hearing from civil to criminal court and requiring that the person charged with cruelty continually pay for the costs of caring for dogs seized. If the owner did not pay at any point, even if they were found not guilty of the charges, they would have lost right to challenge the costs and ownership rights in the trial. The bill also stated that the court must consider a warrant alone as sufficient cause for impoundment. SB 11-009 passed the Senate, but was pulled by a sponsor in the House Agriculture Committee. AKC GR sent a letter of concern, alerted local clubs, and worked with the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs to defeat the measure.
Michigan – House Bill 4714 sought to incrementally ban "pit bulls" in the state, defined as American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or a dog displaying the majority of physical characteristics of any of these breeds. Dogs displaying "distinguishing characteristics" that "substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of these breeds" would also be impacted. Within one year after passage, no one could breed or sell one of these breeds in the state. After four years, a mandatory spay/neuter for these breeds would be implemented, and after 10 years ownership would be banned. The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Regulatory Reform. The AKC issued a Legislative Alert to parent clubs and local Michigan dog owners and breeders and sent a letter of concern and some materials on the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation to the MI committee. In response to AKC concerns, the committee chairman contacted AKC GR and stated that he would not hear this bill.
Missouri – Senate Bill 161 eliminates a 50-dog ownership limit and makes other positive changes to the Proposition B provisions passed in November 2010. The bill removes the restrictions on breeding ages (the bill now states that female dogs may not be bred more than what is recommended by a veterinarian) and creates the crime of "canine cruelty" for those who repeatedly violate the state’s animal welfare laws and pose a substantial risk to the health and welfare of animals. Governor Nixon has signed the bill into law, and it is effective immediately. Read more about this victory.
New York – Suffolk County Legislature Resolution 1545 contained legislative intent language that made a number of inaccurate, misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Although the sponsor removed language that attacked the AKC, the legislative findings still impugned the integrity of responsible dog breeders. AKC GR provided a written response, created alerts to be distributed at local shows, and worked extensively with local clubs in opposition to the measure. Legislators were also invited to the Suffolk County Kennel Club’s Canine Experience on July 31. The sponsor withdrew the bill.
Texas – House Bill 998 proposed to require the owner of any unneutered male dog weighing over 20 pounds that is ever off the premises of the owner off-lead to purchase $100,000 per occurrence in liability insurance to cover instances of property damages, bodily injury or death. The AKC issued a Legislative Alert urging Texas dog owners to contact the contact their legislators and express concerns with this bill and worked with other concerned groups and individuals in opposition. The bill was assigned to the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence committee, but never received a hearing.
Wyoming – The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that creates the crime of "household pet animal cruelty". As introduced, Senate File 100 sought to define "hoarding" and "puppy mills" by the number of dogs owned, and other vague and arbitrary terms. An amendment was approved by the House of Representatives that deleted the original language and instead defined "household pet animal cruelty" as anyone who keeps household pets "in a manner that results in chronic or repeated physical harm" or "confined in conditions which constitute a public health hazard." AKC GR sent numerous letters and alerts, and worked with local Wyoming kennel clubs, breeders, and the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs to develop this reasonable and fair amendment. Read more about this victory.
These successes demonstrate that the voice of dog owners, when united, is heard by legislators and can make a big difference in protecting the rights of responsible dog owners. View more 2011 legislative successes and bills that did not advance in the 2011 session.
Looking Ahead to 2012
We can expect to see a variety of new legislation in the coming year. In addition, legislation that was introduced but not defeated in 2011 will carry over to 2012 in 27 states and the District of Columbia. Twenty states have begun accepting pre-filed legislation for 2012, and a number of bills that impact dog owners have already been introduced.
AKC GR relies on AKC federations and clubs and their members to serve as a voice for canine legislative issues in their states and communities. Through state federations, the AKC can provide clubs, dog owners and breeders with the support they need to ensure their voices are heard wherever their rights are challenged. We encourage clubs to join their state’s AKC federation. If your state does not have an AKC federation, we invite you to consider developing one with other AKC clubs and responsible dog owners/breeders in your state.