Thursday, February 5, 2009

CO- Successful defeat of "Puppy Mill Bill" HB1172

Please Note: Successfully defeating bills takes the EFFORT of many.

Yes, we DID defeat the so-called 'Puppy Mill bill' which was actually an HSUS 'let's get rid of dog breeders' bill! The bill went to its first hearing before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday afternoon. After a grueling 4+ hours of testimony, the committee voted to kill the bill.

It was far from an easy defeat...we had to work for it since we went into the hearing with only 4 of the 12 votes solid against it. I have to say I have never been prouder of the dog community than during this time. Hobby breeders, the dog show community, small licensed breeders, as well as large scale licensed ! breeders came together to fight this bill being pushed by a common enemy HSUS. I couldn't have planned the whole thing better if I'd tried.

We went into the hearing room about 2 PM and we had a great turn out of people from all facets of the dog community. Our speakers were prepared and did a great job of speaking to the issues. Each planned speaker took a different point or view of the bill to speak about so we covered all bases. The Committee had already been educated about why we opposed the bill through letters and phone calls, and that wonderful NAIA tool - CapWiz! AKC also wrote us a letter of opposition and helped with gathering information and handouts. PIJAC from the pet industry alerted their members, and the licensed commercial breeders had several meetings with the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs to coordinate efforts and information exchange.

We knew that HSUS would be watching our website so we didn't put up a full alert there, but did play it pretty quiet until after the bill was actually introduced and we were ready for action from the Federation members and the dog show community. The Federation and our lobbyists had meetings with the sponsor of the bill on several occasions and stood firm in our position that this bill was not needed, their limit of 25 intact dogs was absolutely unacceptable, and improved nothing for breeding facility care of dogs over the existing PACFA (Pet Animal Care & Facilities Act) law that had been in place for over 14 years. There were some violations of this law over the past year that hit the media (and justly so) that had given HSUS the opportunity to attempt such a bill.

The Agriculture Department which oversees the PACFA program was aware of the Federation's concerns about the problems and they were reviewing changes in their procedures. As with many government agencies, they were under staffed because of funding limits under state laws. The Federation and the licensed dog breeders promised to help them in that area if they would improve their enforcement. This is a good program with people trying to do a job on a shoestring.

As usual, opposition gave testimony first so we made sure we gave good arguments against this bill. Everyone was respectful of the committee and the commercial breeders spoke of the pride they take in their facilities and care of their dogs, and how hard they work to do it right. They were as upset as anyone about bad breeders since it reflects on them negatively. In the case of one of the worse cases to hit the news, it was actually a commercial breeder who called in the situation to the PACFA department and asked that they investigate. All agreed that if raising fees was what was needed to get another inspector and get the program back on track, then that is what should happen. That had an effect on the thinking of the Committee about this bill.

The PACFA vets spoke well on their problems with enforcement and what they were doing to clean the problems up. The program had just gone through what Colorado calls a sunset review of how the program was working, which had been presented to the legislature a couple of weeks before, and problems as well as solutions were being addressed in that sunset bill. This gave us added ammunition to oppose HB1172 since increased enforcement and funding were being addressed already.

The opposition testimony took about 3 hours with 20 speakers. The supporters of the bill had 10 speakers who didn't get their chance to speak until almost 6PM. Everyone was tired, but the committee had been listening. When the supporters started in with their horror stories, the committee members commented that it appeared to be an enforcement issue, not a need for this bill or limits on numbers of intact dogs. We had done our homework, we were polite but firm in our opposition, and it was successful. In the end the author of the bill tried several amendments, including changing their 'magic number' to 50, but the committee wasn't buying it. They voted to not pass the bill out of committee 7-5. Dead and buried!

Again, the secret to our success was everyone putting aside our differences and pulling together, sharing information, being aware of what was happening in our state to set up the situation, and a tip from a fellow dog person early on for a draft of the bill. Also, an educated legislature and a great team of lobbyists. When it hit the legislature we were ready and waiting! We do know this will probably be back in a ballot initiative or referendum this summer, since the public is easier to deceive with emotional issues than a well prepared legislature, but we will also be ready for that battle. We will also be monitoring the PACFA program to make sure it gets the funding it needs and support to do the job it was created for. It is an excellent program and we did something right in creating it 14 years ago!

Linda Hart, Secretary
Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs

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