Joyce Kitsemble fought for mistreated dogs for more than 10 years and lived to see one of her greatest goals accomplished.
Then, Kitsemble, who for years sought tougher state dog breeding and basic care guidelines, died after suffering a heart attack at the state’s Capitol building in Madison. She died shortly after Gov. Jim Doyle signed the puppy mill legislation, Assembly Bill 250. The Wisconsin Rapids woman was 70.
Joyce, along with her husband, Ed, first became interested in puppy mills about 10 years ago after reading a magazine article about Eilene Ribbens, who was circulating petitions against the breeding facilities that often house dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs.
Ever since, the Kitsembles have worked alongside Ribbens, the executive director of the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project.
Assembly Bill 250 requires dog breeders who sell more than 25 canines a year to obtain a license through the state. The bill also increases the standards of care for the animals, including requirements that breeders provide dogs with enough food, shelter and exercise. It will take at least 18 months for the state to set up the required framework and train inspectors.
The conditions at these facilities are the reasons Joyce tried so hard for so long to achieve this legislation, Ed said.
“They have dogs, four, five in a small crate, and have them stacked up, and feces and urine run down to those below them,” he said. “They aren’t sheltered, out in the cold all winter long, no food, no water — that’s what we were fighting for; we wanted the animals to have respect.”
Ribbens invited Joyce and Ed to attend Doyle’s signing ceremony for the bill Tuesday.
“We were joyful because we had all worked very hard and it was a celebration,” Ribbens said. “I just adored Joyce; she was an amazing advocate, extraordinarily dedicated and one of those people who would just not give up.”
While Joyce died of an abrupt heart attack, she had been coping with a lung ailment. When it was diagnosed five years ago, doctors said she would have six months to live, said her daughter, Sandi Hodgden. She outlived that prediction, but the condition worsened, and Joyce was put on a oxygen tank about a year ago.
Hodgden said her mother would often go to a puppy mill to purchase sick dogs or those that could no longer be used for breeding, before they were killed by their owners.
“She’d take them home, take them to a vet and give them a good life,” Hodgden said.
“When (the legislation) fight was over, then her fight with her illness was over, too. My mom is at peace because now she found peace for the dogs.”
“That’s what she told me a couple years ago: ‘I will live until the puppy mill bill is signed,’ and she did, to the day.”