On Wednesday, March 3, the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation was scheduled to hold a work session on LD 1598, An Act to Strengthen the Laws against Illegal “Puppy Mill” Operators.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Androscoggin, comes on the heels of several seizures in Maine of animals from alleged puppy mills, the large-scale, commercial breeding facilities that put profit before the well being of their animals.

The bill would increase animal cruelty crimes from class D to class C when 25 or more animals are involved, authorize the state to recover the cost of relocating animals as part of an animal cruelty case, and add probation as a sentencing option for class D cruelty crimes.

The idea for the bill came to Simpson from York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence, who is now prosecuting a Buxton couple, John and Heidi Frascas, on animal cruelty charges after 250 dogs, many of them diseased, were seized from their kennel in August 2007. The Frascas, who fled to Massachusetts following the charges, are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday, March 4, for a pre-trial hearing.

Lawrence and other prosecutors, Simpson said, do not feel they have the tools to properly handle cases of animal cruelty. For one thing, the threat of being prosecuted under a class D crime may not be enough to deter the owners of multiple animals from treating them poorly.

Also, large-scale cases end up costing the state valuable time and money to relocate the animals. They are also a heavy burden on the already overburdened animal shelters that end up, through their own dedication to animal welfare, taking in the seized animals.

Most important may be the final provision in the bill, which allows for probation in cases of animal cruelty. While a court can now prohibit someone convicted of that crime from owning an animal, it is difficult to enforce. According to Norma Worley, the director of the state’s Animal Welfare Program, prosecutors are reluctant to pursue such cases because of this difficulty.

Some breeders have come out against the bill, arguing that it paints all large-scale animal owners as puppy mill operators. Not so, said Simpson. The bill, she said, only increases the penalties for people who are already committing a crime under the current statutes.

“It’s not about the number of animals you have,” said Simpson. “It’s the number you mistreat.”

LD 1598 is certainly a step in the right direction for dealing with unscrupulous breeders. But after it passes this bill, the Legislature should also consider taking a few more steps.

In some states, such as Washington and Oregon, a breeder is limited to 50 breeding dogs in order to prevent facilities that have too many animals to handle correctly. The state could also develop an animal abuse registry to give Mainers a way to check on breeders before they buy. Both of these ideas deserve debate.

Finally, the best defense against puppy mills comes from the due diligence of prospective dog owners. More information on puppy mills can be found at www.humanesociety.org or www.aspca.org. And, before buying, check out your local animal shelter. You are sure to find many loving dogs who just want the chance to be part of a happy, safe home.

Ben Bragdon,

Managing editor


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