Missouri Continues to Battle Over Puppy Mill Reforms

Will 11th hour compromise save key provisions?
By Lisa McCormick, April 2011, Updated June 2021

Agriculture and animal rights groups in Missouri may have a reached a compromise in the heated debate over a measure voters approved last November to stop the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills.

But the clock is ticking on lawmakers’ approval of this brokered deal and not all parties support the proposed agreement.
“We have concerns about what is being proposed,” Barbara Schmitz, Missouri state director for The Humane Society of the United States, told Bark today. “We think what is being proposed falls short and does not meet the will of the voters to protect dogs. We’re disappointed.”
At the heart of this dispute is Proposition B, a voter-approved initiative that required large-scale breeding operations to provide dogs in their care with basic food and clean water, adequate shelter from the elements, necessary veterinary care, enough space to turn around and stretch, and regular exercise.
The measure pitted animal rights groups against many in the state’s agricultural communities.
Missouri lawmakers fueled the fiery debate last week when they approved a bill that animal rights groups say “gutted” Proposition B and ignored the will of the voters.
Supporters of SB 113, however, said the new measure strengthened requirements and inspections of licensed dog breeders in Missouri and cracked down on the estimated 1,500 unlicensed breeders in the state.
The bill reached Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s desk on Monday—giving him 15 days to either veto the measure or sign it into law.
Proposition B supporters urged Nixon to veto the bill; agricultural groups and other Proposition B opponents called on the governor to sign the measure.
As the controversy continued to swirl, parties on both sides of the debate announced late Monday they had reached a compromise. Representatives from six agriculture and animal rights groups hammered out a new bill, which they say protects dogs and the state’s agriculture interests.
The so-called “Missouri Solution” includes provisions from Proposition B and SB 113. For example, it keeps the provision that dogs must, at a minimum, be examined at least once a year by a licensed veterinarian. But it changes the requirement that dogs must receive prompt treatment of “any illness or injury.” The new measure states dogs must receive prompt treatment of any “serious illness or injury.”
The compromise bill also removed a key provision in Proposition B that limited breeders to no more than 50 breeding dogs.
The groups supporting this new measure—including the Humane Society of Missouri and the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners—sent a letter on Monday about the agreement and the proposed legislation to Gov. Nixon and the state’s General Assembly.
“Today, we are pleased to submit for your consideration legislation that upholds the intent of Missouri voters concerning the treatment of dogs and incorporates legislative revisions necessary to ensure proper implementation,” the letter stated. “The agreement we have reached strengthens requirements for the care and treatment of dogs and protects Missouri agriculture.”
Specifically, the groups said the proposed measure will strengthen:
  • Standards for veterinary care that must be provided to dogs in breeding facilities;
  • Standards concerning the living conditions for dogs in breeding facilities, including access to sufficient food and clean water;
  • Standards regarding the amount of space that must be provided for each dog. It also gives the industry sufficient time to meet these new standards;
  • State enforcement.
“Missouri voters clearly stated that they want stronger protections for dogs, and this agreement upholds that intent,” said Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri. “Our agreement also allows responsible, professional breeders to continue to operate in Missouri. This agreement is a significant step forward.”
Gov. Nixon, who helped broker the deal, also applauded the compromise.
“Over the past week, my administration has been working closely with folks on every side of this issue to reach an agreement that respects the will of the voters, protects dogs and allows responsible breeders to earn a living in our state,” Nixon said in a prepared statement. “People with good minds and good will have come together to develop a Missouri solution to this Missouri issue, and together, we have made significant progress.”
Missouri lawmakers, however, will have to move quickly to pass the compromise measure. The legislative session ends on May 13.
“That’s a pretty tall order to get this done by the end of the session,” said Senator Mike Parson, who sponsored SB 113. “It’s a huge mountain to climb to fast-track something through the system. We still have the budget, redistricting and a lot of other issues to address.”
What if the legislature doesn’t approve this latest measure?
“We’ve still got SB 113 to deal with,” Parson told Bark. “If the governor vetoes that bill and the other (compromise) language doesn’t get through, then we’re back to Proposition B. And if that happens, we’ll end up in court. I’m sure there will be constitutional challenges to Proposition B.”
Another issue complicating the debate is the 15-day clock that is ticking on SB 113. Gov. Nixon now has until May 3—10 days before the Missouri legislature convenes—to sign or veto the bill.
“The governor has not indicated what he will do in regard to SB 113,” spokesman Scott Holste said today. “He is focused on getting this agreement through the legislature. We’re encouraged by that fact that these groups came together and worked out their differences to arrive at this agreement. And we hope that the legislature moves forward quickly. There is a short amount of time for things to happen.”   
Animal advocates or others concerned about SB 113 or Proposition B can contact Gov. Nixon through his website or at (573) 751-3222.
More information about the compromised agreement can be found on the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s website. A copy of SB 113 is available on  the Missouri Senate’s website.

Lisa McCormick is an award-winning investigative reporter whose stories have appeared in Dogs for Kids magazine, The Kansas City Star, and the national consumer news website, ConsumerAffairs.com; she has written 12 nonfiction children's books.