Breeders bark about proposed puppy bill


Christopher Lynch, legislative aide to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, assured an audience of 150 dog breeders last week that the Puppy Protection Act which Mr. Cardin introduced to Congress would not go forward as written.

That was good news to the dog breeders and members of the Dog Owners Guild of Maryland (D.O.G.), who met recently at Seton-Keough High School to hear Mr. Lynch. While the dog fanciers -- breeders -- have no complaints about the bill's (HR3718) intent to protect buyers of faulty puppies, they object to the way it is written.

The breeders' primary objections to the bill are the definitions of "pet dealers," a stipulation that buyers be entitled to refunds for a sick puppy and for those judged not to fit the American Kennel Club standard for their breed, and the fact that veterinarians would be able to make certain judgments breeders consider unfair.

Mr. Cardin's bill defines a pet dealer as any person who engages in the acquisition of dogs for resale to consumers and includes dog breeders who have three intact (unspayed) female dogs on the premises for breeding purposes. The bill, according to the D.O.G. members, does not address the backyard breeder or dogs sold at wholesale from establishments often referred to as puppy mills.

Although Mr. Cardin, Democrat from the 3rd District, did not attend the meeting, Mr. Lynch distributed copies of a letter written by Mr. Cardin to explain some of the controversial aspects drawing criticism from the group.

"We are pursuing improvements to this bill," said Mr. Lynch. "Mr. Cardin is not wedded to this bill as it stands now. That is why I am here and why you are here at the beginning of the legislative process," he told the audience. "That is the way it works. You don't see a bill fly through the House [of Representatives]," he added.

Mr. Cardin's letter contained explanations of the breeders' three major objections. In reference to "pet dealer," he wrote, "This definition is a judgment as to the point at which a hobby becomes a business. I am not suggesting that anyone who has three or more intact females is running a 'puppy mill,' " he wrote.

Mr. Lynch was questioned as to why Mr. Cardin wasn't establishing a bill to eliminate puppy mills -- where thousands of puppies are bred yearly -- instead of jeopardizing the responsible breeder who may have three unspayed bitches but only breeds one a year or even one in six years and is very careful about health.

The bill also lays the responsibility for veterinary bills upon the seller of a sick or faulty puppy for up to three times the animal's purchase price. In his letter, Mr. Cardin responded: "For the concerned, responsible breeder there is an exemption from liability."

The audience questioned Mr. Lynch as to the validity of a veterinarian determining such an exemption. And one breeder noted that responsible breeders wouldn't sell a sick puppy.

Another breeder asked what happens to the buyer "who takes a puppy and ignores its feedings and its health and when it is sick takes it to a veterinarian to get care at the expense of the seller."

Mr. Cardin's bill calls for reimbursement to the buyer if a veterinarian certifies (even beyond a year) that the dog does not fit the standard of the breed it was represented to be. Mr. Cardin's letter noted that he was considering varying proposals that would better deal with this problem.

Dr. Bill Benson, who operates the Reisterstown 24-hour Veterinary Clinic, said, "Many breeds have propensities to certain problems which a breeder cannot change. Also, most veterinarians would have to go back to school to learn the AKC standards for each of some 35 breeds. I know that I didn't go to veterinary school to be a dog judge.

"This law," he continued, "could create a paper trail from vet to vet and may often pit vet against vet. And, before you knew it, you'd be seeing advertisements from unscrupulous veterinarians suggesting that owners bring their sick puppies to them."

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