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Proposed 'puppy mill' measure has both sides growling

A measure to try to outlaw 'puppy mills' in New Hampshire is raising hackles among some dog lovers.

Advocates on both sides of the issue are expected to be out in force Thursday when the Senate's Executive Departments and Administration Committee takes up Senate Bill 370 at 10:45 a.m. in Room 100 of the State House. And while each side will concede that they all want to protect dogs, they disagree on how best to do that.

The bill would create housing, exercise, food and veterinary-care restrictions for anyone who keeps more than 10 unspayed females for the purpose of breeding the dogs and selling the puppies as pets.

Sen. Robert Odell, R-Lempster, agreed to sponsor the measure at the request of the Humane Society of the United States.

Joanne Bourbeau, northeast regional director of that organization, said the intent of the legislation is 'to stop the large-scale commercial facilities that are mass-producing dogs.'

'I don't think there's anybody in New Hampshire who would be negatively affected by this legislation, but I think it could stem the growth of facilities from getting out of control,' she said.

Dog Owners of the Granite State (DOGS) - whose members include kennels, trainers, groomers, breeders, hunters, mushers and dog owners - opposes the measure.

Joyce Arivella, the group's president, said SB 370 would impose costly and unnecessary requirements on breeders. 'I would like to see the bill killed,' she said.

HSUS has pushed similar legislation both on the federal level and in other states, Bourbeau said. One key element is to cap at 50 the number of unsterilized animals any breeder can have.

But there's some indication that cap may be removed from the measure come Thursday. Odell's office last week said he plans to bring an amendment to the hearing, and an advocacy group sent out an email on Friday stating the 50-dog limit will be removed in that amendment.

Odell could not be reached to confirm that.

SB 370 includes specific requirements for how dogs are kept and cared for and how often females can be bred. It would authorize the commissioner of agriculture to adopt rules for investigation of complaints and make any violation a Class A misdemeanor.

Arivella said some requirements in the bill would be 'detrimental' to some dogs. She noted a nearly identical measure was voted down two years ago.

'It is not a good bill for the animals, and it is not a good bill for the people,' she said.

Arivella said there are 'a couple of bad breeders' in the state, but there is no epidemic of puppy mills here. 'I don't think there's anybody in New Hampshire, at least I haven't heard of them, that is pumping out animals for profit.'

Under SB 370, she said, 'The same people that are following the law now are going to be put out of business, and the ones that are breaking it are just going to burrow further down into the ground and out of sight.'

But Bourbeau said puppy mills have been discovered in New Hampshire. In 2010, she said, 29 dachshunds and a pomeranian were rescued from a house in Deerfield, and 44 dogs, including shih tzu, Yorkshires, Maltese and poodles, were removed from a Mont Vernon breeder after they were found crammed into wire cages in squalid conditions.

State veterinarian Stephen Crawford said he plans to weigh in on the bill, but wants to talk with Odell before speaking publicly. However, he said he does have concerns about the added workload of supervising breeders who currently are not licensed by his Division of Animal Welfare.

Existing laws require licensing and annual inspection of all pet shops, animal shelters, animal brokers and commercial breeders, Crawford noted. The latter is defined as anyone who breeds and sells 10 litters or 50 puppies in any 12-month period. There are currently five commercial breeders licensed in the state.

Those same laws include space, cleaning, food-storage and waste-disposal requirements, Crawford said. Between those administrative rules and the state's animal- cruelty laws, he said, 'I think the ability exists to address most problems that arise.'

Bourbeau said she's happy to have the support of House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, who co-sponsored the bill.

In an email, Bettencourt told the New Hampshire Sunday News he has been committed to animal-welfare issues his entire legislative career and is 'deeply troubled' by puppy mills.

Bourbeau, Arivella and Crawford all agreed that everyone going to Thursday's hearing will have the best interests of dogs at heart.

Said Bourbeau: 'We do tend to be on the opposite side of the fence on some things, but agreement on animal welfare being a priority is across the board.'

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