RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – Graphic images of the 160 dogs collected in a raid last week in Stokes County show the dogs sleeping in their own waste, in makeshift kennels that had exposed wires and an infestation of mice.
But Kim Alboum, director of the Humane Society of North Carolina, which took the pictures, hopes some good will come out of what she called a “heartbreaking” scene. She wants it to be a catalyst that will push North Carolinians to demand more regulation of commercial dog breeders — an industry that now has little oversight in the state.
“My expectation is that our legislators are going to see the outcry from the general public and hopefully help us move something forward and get some regulations in place,” Alboum said. “The majority of people want to have regulations for commercial dog breeders in North Carolina. They want to have some level of accountability.”
North Carolina does license those breeders who sell animals to research facilities and pet stores. But about 90 percent or more of the state’s breeders sell directly to buyers through newspaper or Internet ads, said Ann Church, vice president of state affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A bill to regulate commercial breeders passed the state Senate in 2009, but it died in the House after pressure on lawmakers from groups including the N.C. Pork Council and the Farm Bureau. The bill was deemed “too divisive” by opponents.
No new legislation was submitted last year.
Alboum said she’s working with North Carolina animal control officers and legislators to come up with a new bill.
The Humane Society estimates there are 250 to 300 commercial dog breeders operating in North Carolina, and Alboum is quick to point out that many of them are responsible and caring owners. But those that aren’t so ethical flock to North Carolina, animal advocates say, because of the state’s lack of oversight. Nationally, at least 19 states have some level of regulation in place for commercial dog breeders, the Humane Society says.
There was no specific language in the previous bill relating to farm animals or food production, but farm groups worried about the participation of the Humane Society, which in the past has pressured Smithfield Foods and other pork producers across the nation to phase out the use of gestation crates for sows in company-owned facilities. Last December, Smithfield Foods recommitted to an earlier promise to phase out the practice by 2017.
“We’re concerned about their motives,” Deborah Johnson, CEO of the N.C. Pork Council, said of the Humane Society. “We’re concerned about their involvement in food-animal production. We know there are people with motives about animal agriculture that are involved with commercial dog breeders. That causes us caution and concern.”
Alboum concedes that corporate farming practices are a major concern of the Humane Society, but she insisted that the issues are separate.
“This isn’t about food animals,” she said. “This is about companion animals. It’s about responsible care for dogs in breeding facilities.”
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Cumberland County Democrat and a proponent of commercial dog breeder legislation, said there shouldn’t be a fear that regulations for dog breeders will lead to rules in other areas.
“Something that got mixed in was this ‘camel’s nose under the tent’ notion that if you regulate breeding of companion animals, you look at having the state regulate all kinds of other animals,” Glazier said. “That is absolutely the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
“Our goal is to regulate the bad breeders to become better or move out of here, not to put onerous regulations or burdens on good operations and good breeders,” Glazier said.
The bill also was opposed by North Carolina hunters, who worried about how it would affect the keeping of hunting dogs. But hunters — as well as kennel operators and a few other categories of dog owners — were specifically exempted from the proposed regulations.
The American Kennel Club also had problems with the bill, fearing that it would make things more difficult for reputable breeders and hobby breeders.
Wingate resident Maggie Blutreich, who has been breeding AKC-registered beagles with her husband, Kim, since 1997, worries that statewide legislation could “throw all the babies out with the bath water.”
Alboum said her group is working with the AKC to resolve those concerns in a way that protects dogs and also ensures that responsible breeders are not negatively impacted.
More than anything, Blutreich said, she would like consumers to take responsibility for making smarter choices when buying animals.
“With the Internet and third-party delivery and all that stuff — you wouldn’t buy a turkey breast that way,” she said. “Let alone something that was going to live with you and be in the backseat of your car with your kids for 15 years. People spend six months buying a used car and then click around a bit with a mouse and end up with a dog.”
Blutreich, who also is a certified professional dog trainer, made a checklist to help people determine whether they are dealing with a responsible breeder or one who is not ethical. Responsible breeders are careful when screening potential owners, she says. Her tip sheet likens the screening process to feeling like “you are trying to adopt a child from the CIA.”
More than 500 dogs were recovered in the five puppy mill raids in North Carolina last year — in Wake, Caldwell, Franklin, Perquimans and Lincoln counties.
Rescued dogs typically need extensive care to recuperate from health and socialization problems associated with their living conditions.
Sometimes the dogs are in such bad shape that they must be euthanized, but the goal, according to Deborah Steely, manager of the Wake SPCA holding center, is always to rehabilitate them. Steely assisted in the transport of 14 Stokes County dogs from Greensboro to Wake County last week. The Humane Society of Charlotte has 33 of the dogs from the raid.
Marsha Williams, executive director of the Guilford County Animal Shelter, which received 129 of the Stokes dogs, said many of them have eye issues, hematomas, heart murmurs, severe dental problems, matting and dermatitis. Some of the dogs have broken jaws and teeth, which occurs in calcium-depleted smaller dogs that have been over bred.
“Two of the dogs were mamas nursing babies,” Williams said. She thinks at least seven of the dogs her shelter received are pregnant.
Some of the dogs kept knocking over their food bowls at the shelter. Officials think they had never used a bowl — their food was usually just spread in their cages with the animals’ feces.
All of the dogs taken from the Stokes site, Dan River Bullies in Danbury, were French and English bulldogs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas. One African parrot was also surrendered.
Charges are expected to be filed against the owners, Willis and Lucile Mabe, after veterinarians finish evaluating the dogs.
In cases where animals are determined to have been neglected or treated cruelly, owners can face misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. If dogs are starved to death, the charges are felonies.
But animal advocates would like more emphasis on preventing puppy mills, not just punishment after the fact.
Album thinks it’s just a matter of all sides coming together and coming up with legislation that everyone likes.
“I feel like we’re at a pivotal moment where things are getting ready to really change, and I love it. We’re on the right side of this issue, and eventually, we will prevail.”