Sleazy Tactics in the Buckeye State

If you’re a dog breeder in the U.S. today you know that laws are being passed fast and furious trying to limit your ability to keep and raise animals. California and Maryland have banned the sale of dogs from breeders in pet stores and several other states are attempting to do the same. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), always willing to snake their way through the legislative process, is currently trying to do an end-run in the New Hampshire legislature to get rid of hobby breeders by labeling them “pet vendors.” Perhaps no citizens have had a worse experience with HSUS-sponsored legislation recently than pet breeders in Ohio.

You probably know that HSUS regularly writes legislation for lawmakers. One of the bills they wrote which was passed into law in Ohio in 2018 was supposed to “crack down” on alleged substandard or high volume breeding operations. (What some call “puppy mills,” though that is an offensive slur term.) House Bill 506 was passed in 2018 under threat of a ballot measure. (HSUS threatens ballot measures in Ohio on a regular basis. They hold the state hostage.) It built on a previous commercial breeder law in the state that had been passed in 2013. It was supposed to make the Buckeye State a model for the rest of the country. HSUS had to be very pleased with it, especially since it had a hidden twist: another Ohio law, combined with HB 506, would require countless hobby breeders in the state to become licensed as “high volume” breeders.

Everyone seemed to be congratulating themselves, happy that a ballot measure had been averted. John Goodwin, senior director for HSUS’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign, even suggested that the new Ohio regulations could pressure the USDA to improve their national standards for breeders – referring to regulations for the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Mike Gonidakis, representing Petland, seemed to agree. “We hope someday to live in a country where reputable breeders exist from coast to coast and reputable pet stores can operate freely in Ohio and have a system where we can ensure that happens on a daily basis.” Cue the rainbows and unicorns.

Gonidakis was also quoted multiple times making the following comment in newspapers and in the magazine Kennel Spotlight We put our differences aside and now we have legislation that we believe can be shopped around the country as the new standard in all 50 states,” he said.

Unfortunately, as Gonidakis surely realized or he wouldn’t be much of a lobbyist, the new law would prove to be a disaster for many small breeders, as predicted by The Cavalry Group. In their analysis of the bill, The Cavalry Group had stated “…we feel that the intent is to further over-regulate the dog breeding business in increased operating costs that will provide a significant financial burden to the independent dog breeder” and that it would “drive the independent dog breeders out of business.”

The new law went into effect in September 2018 and that’s when things started hitting the fan. Many hobby breeders in the state were now caught up in a legislative nightmare. Stories inundated social media and newspapers of small breeders forced to pay $500 to become licensed as a “pet store” or face a $10,000 fine. In some circumstances, selling a single puppy in the state could require you to become licensed.

Several hundred so-called “high volume” breeders paid the $500 license fee to the Ohio Department of Agriculture out of fear. Other hobby breeders ignored the request to pay the fee or hid, hoping the law would be amended. Lawmakers said that the law was never intended to be applied to small hobby breeders but HSUS wasn’t shedding any tears for any breeders.

“So under the 2018 law more and more breeders are now coming under the definition of a high volume breeder and are subject to being licensed, inspected and held to higher animal care standard,” said Corey Roscoe, state director of Humane Society of the United States.

By March, the outcry was so loud that legislators had to try to correct the law while the Ohio Department of Agriculture was forced to stop trying to enforce it.

Eventually, Ohio lawmakers, led by Rep. Brian Hill, were able to make changes to the law, aided by The Cavalry Group, AKC, and other interested parties.

As originally passed, HB 506 defined a High Volume Breeder as someone who sold five or more dogs to a broker or pet store; or sold 40 or more puppies annually to the public. Facilities would have required significant financial investments to comply with new kennel requirements. Most of the regulations for these changes were not clearly defined so they would have been left up to inspectors or government officials to interpret. There would have been increased staffing costs for kennels. The state required a performance bond from $5000-$10,000. Non-government organizations would have been allowed to enforce regulations, which violates the 4thand 5thAmendments to the Constitution. Private information for breeders and brokers would have been made available to the public. 

As recently passed with changes, the revised law now does the following:

New Definition of “high volume breeder”– Under this bill, a high volume breeder is an establishment that keeps, houses and maintains six or more breeding dogs (meaning a fertile, unspayed, adult dog) AND meets one of the following criteria:

  • 1) In return for a fee or other consideration, sells five or more adult dogs or puppies in any calendar year to dog brokers or pet stores;
    • (2) In return for a fee or other consideration, sells forty or more puppies in any calendar year to the public; or
    • (3) Keeps, houses, and maintains, at any given time in a calendar year, more than forty puppies that are under four months of age, that have been bred on the premises of the establishment, and that have been primarily kept, housed, and maintained from birth on the premises of the establishment.

An establishment must BOTH maintain 6 or more breeding dogs as defined AND meet one of these three criteria to be considered a high volume breeder. Just maintaining 6 breeding dogs will not be considered to meet the threshold of a high volume breeder.

The law also contains these sections:

  • Clarified standards of care for high volume breeders– The standards of care in House Bill 506 include requiring food sufficient to maintain normal body condition provided in accordance with a nutritional plan recommended by a veterinarian; access to potable, clean, and sanitary water; and a primary enclosure with measurements that are based on a dog’s length and regulations regarding flooring and sanitation that are based on current Ohio Department of Agriculture rules. Outdoor enclosures require protection if the climatic or ambient temperature poses a threat to the health of the individual dog, rather than specific temperature requirements that do not take into account specific breeds, such as those proposed in the ballot measure. 
  • Requirement that pet stores and dog retailers must verify that breeders meet Ohio’s standards of care. Prior to obtaining an animal, a pet store or dog retailer (someone who sells to pet stores or at wholesale for resale) must verify that a breeder, whether in Ohio or out of state, verify the standards of care at the breeder’s kennel and keep records on this verification, in order to ensure that dogs sold in Ohio pet stores were raised in kennels that meet Ohio’s minimum standards. 

You can view the final version (for now anyway) of the Ohio law here 

There are still things in HB 506 that are less than desirable but it’s much improved. And small breeders are no longer being harassed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture or identified as “high volume” breeders or pet stores.

If there’s one thing to take away from this mess it’s that you can never trust HSUS or their proxy groups. Hundreds of small hobby breeders in Ohio were victimized by HSUS manipulating lawmakers, threatening a ballot measure for the umpteenth time in the last ten years, and screwing around with the language in this bill so that it would needlessly include breeders that could never, under any circumstances, be considered “high volume” or “pet stores.” And, why? Just to try to stop people from breeding healthy, desirable dogs that will make great pets. How low can they go?

Carlotta Cooper is vice president of Sportsmens’ & Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance and a regular contributing writer for The Cavalry Group, a member-based company working to defend the private property rights of animal owners and animal enterprise nationwide. Follow The Cavalry Group on Facebook, MeWe, Instagram, and Twitter.

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