Thursday, March 25, 2010

Support regulation of Minnesota's puppy mills

Following is an open, published letter that Mike Fry wrote to the entire Minnesota Legislature.

My name is Mike Fry. I am the executive director of Animal Ark, one of Minnesota’s largest animal welfare organizations, with programs that operate throughout the state and beyond. Our large and growing membership includes citizens in every county in Minnesota. We also have members in 42 other states and 5 other countries. Our membership is politically diverse, including all kinds of perspectives from all political parties. Our members include animal rescuers and dog breeders as well as hog farmers and hunters.

We have been able to maintain this diverse membership because Animal Ark’s philosophy is moderate, centrist and mainstream. We are not fringe animal rights extremists like PETA or HSUS. We are your brothers and sisters and your neighbors. We are your constituents.

I am writing to you today to let you know that, based on the emails I am receiving, as well as comments to our blogs and news stories, our members are not happy with the Legislature’s handling of the puppy mill issue, which has been ongoing for several years. However, the concern of our members reached a critically high level this session.

In 2009 two different bills were offered in the House and Senate to accomplish the goal of regulating commercial breeders. It could be argued that both bills, when compared to bills being passed in other states, were relatively moderate in their approaches. However, because several of the small hobby breeders in Minnesota expressed concern over possible unintended consequences of one bill, Animal Ark worked with them and others to create a viable alternative.

The Legislature’s response to these two bills was clear. We were instructed to get our groups together and bring back compromise language. Not only was that goal accomplished, we brought more stakeholders to the table than was requested and together we drafted an outstanding compromise set of bills. Senate File 7, as amended this year, and House File 253 as amended in the House Ag committee last year, is that compromise language.

In spite of this, the House Ag Committee tabled the bill without voting on it. The Senate Ag Committee voted it down by a 5-7 vote, with some of the same senators who told the groups to get together and create compromise language now saying, in effect, that their compromise is not good enough.

This has left many Minnesotans who worked on or who supported these bills feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. They have just delivered the broomstick of the Wicked Witch only to be told by the man behind the curtain that is not enough. Furthermore, “How dare they question the great and powerful Oz?!”

Adding to the sense that this should be fiction and not real life is the fact that over the interim two important bodies weighed in on the compromise language – the Board of Animal Health and the Department of Revenue. BAH completed a fiscal note, with input from DOR. The report was shocking to many.

The most compelling fact reported was that of 100 randomly selected commercial dog breeders in the state, 74 of them were not in compliance with Minnesota sales tax laws. That is a 74% noncompliance rate. Based on other research, the report projected the total loss of revenue to the state resulting from the tax cheating of commercial dog breeders to be in excess of $2 million annually. Furthermore the report predicted that the compromise bill language offered in SF 7 and HF 253 would help the state collect the majority of those funds - at least $1.3 million per year. But that is not all.

The report also projects the financial impact on regulated parties. Total fees for commercial dog breeders would amount to between $1 and $2 for each puppy sold. Given that these puppies sell for hundreds of dollars each it is easy to see these minimal costs could be easily passed on to the buyers, meaning that, fundamentally, the program would cost the regulated breeders virtually nothing.

These bills, it would seem, would create a win for all law-abiding Minnesotans. Responsible breeders, be they commercial or hobby breeders, would stay in business. Breeders that could not meet the minimal standards of our existing cruelty laws would be out of business, creating more business for responsible breeders. Additionally, the State would benefit financially. Animal Welfare advocates nation-wide would see fewer malnourished, unsocialized dog and cats that suffer from genetic abnormalities resulting from inbreeding. The only losers in the equation are those not paying their taxes and who are abusing animals.

In spite of these basic facts, Animal Ark members who have contacted their legislators are being given a host of excuses. “I’m not on that committee.” “We need 100% consensus in order to pass a bill.” “We need agreement from those that would be regulated in order to pass the bill.”

I read your responses and have to wonder, “are you kidding me?”

The excuses go on and on, and, frankly, do not address the concerns being communicated to you. Whether or not you sit on a committee, your constituents want you to proactively get involved in passing this needed legislation. If you are on a committee hearing the bill, they want you to understand the humane and fiscal implications. They want you to take action to solve these problems.

Expecting that we have 100% consensus is like asking Dorothy to get the Wicked Witch to turn herself in, or asking Minnesotans to become flying monkeys. The commercial breeders to be regulated by these proposed bills amount to about 400 Minnesotans. That is approximately 0.0000075% of your constituency.

Your constituents are speaking. Are you listening?

Mike Fry
Executive Director of Animal Ark
Co-Host of Animal Wise Radio
Animal Ark Main: (651) 772-8983
Mike Fry Direct: (651) 964-3140
Toll Free: (888) 668-0687 Ext 99
FAX: (651) 304-6038

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