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Regulating puppy mills may become difficult for Texas

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By Sergeant Charles Jantzen
Harris County Constables Office
Contributions by Britne Hammons 
Monitor Staff Writer

VAN ZANDT COUNTY–

Ending cruel puppy mill practices is an issue most Texans want to get behind – and enthusiastically did when the state passed a law in 2011 to put an end to them. 
Overbreeding, inhumane conditions and the poor health of puppies and kittens are just a few of the problems with bad commercial breeding facilities or “puppy mills.” However, what many Texans do not realize is that the very program established to prevent this cycle of cruelty and regulate such breeders is in jeopardy of being completely revoked by the Texas Sunset Commission. 
In 2015, Canton’s “Dog Alley,” was part of a Humane Society investigation, and more than one breeder that operated there had an animal cruelty charge. 
Texas State Senator Bob Hall represents Van Zandt County and is on the commission that will ultimately decide the fate of the program. 
Saturday, Aug. 22, a hearing will be held where the commission will hear invited/public testimony. After the hearing, the members will all work to make their final report, which could be similar to the June report that initially proposed getting rid of the program, or different. After the report, they will vote in public on whatever the final report says. For Sen. Hall, we will only know how he votes on the contents of the final report when that comes out. 
While the current Licensed Breeders Program is not perfect, it has succeeded in providing some oversight to large-scale breeding facilities. As a law enforcement officer, not only do I want to ensure that people and animals are protected, but I know that if the program is revoked the job of stopping puppy mills will be thrust completely on law enforcement across the state. Simply put, law enforcement does not have the resources necessary for this undertaking. Worse yet, we are unable to step in until after unnecessary cruelty has taken place, which can be too late for many animals. 
Under the current Licensed Breeders Program, basic standards for these operations were created. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) inspects each applicant’s facility, ensuring that any unethical breeder is prevented from getting a license at all. And for those well-meaning breeders with violations, they are given a chance to remedy any issue and be in compliance with the minimum standards required by law. Additionally, the 2011 law requires TDLR to conduct out-of-cycle inspections throughout the year to ensure breeders are following humane practices.
Without these standards and the review of a breeders’ adherence by TDLR regulators, these animals are left completely unprotected. Their best-case scenario becomes a civilian knowing what to look for and getting the attention of law enforcement, who are dealing with countless other demands on limited resources. The Licensed Breeders Program is a critical component to the total safety net of Texas dogs and cats and is not a type of oversight law enforcement can provide if the program were to be revoked. 
In a future without state oversight of these facilities, law enforcement will be forced to inevitably conduct large-scale seizures of animals in cruel breeding facilities, which comes at a huge cost to local taxpayers and only if a local shelter or rescue exists in the area to assist. The sad reality is that law enforcement must rely on these local nonprofits to help after a seizure to house, feed, and rehabilitate these animals, making these seizures possible only if local shelters have the capacity and funds, to care for the animals. This reality means communities could suspect that animal cruelty is taking place but lack the resources to intervene and rehome these animals.
As I see it, the only problem with the Licensed Breeders Program is two present loopholes, put into law at the insistence of bad actors in the industry to allow them to sidestep regulation. From 2013 to 2016, there were 400+ complaints to TDLR against unlicensed breeders and only 20 against licensed breeders, demonstrating the level at which bad breeders are able to operate without a license. 
To identify and regulate more bad actors, we must remove the requirement of selling over 20 puppies or kittens to be considered a “breeder.” This number is essentially meaningless, as many breeders operate with unrecorded and untraceable cash transactions to avoid being regulated. Secondly, we must also lower the current threshold for licensure from eleven breeding females to five. No other state has as high a threshold and it has allowed large-scale breeders to masquerade as mom and pop operations.
Maintaining and improving the Licensed Breeders Program supports law enforcement, saves taxpayer dollars and is an essential tool to stop puppy mill practices and animal suffering before they begin. Who can’t get behind that?