Breeding ground for animal abuse

For the Monitor
Thursday, July 06, 2017

Who would have thought a 15,000-square-foot mansion in an affluent New Hampshire neighborhood would be hiding such horrors. Eighty-four Great Danes were trapped in a feces-filled, ammonia-smelling terror where they were subjected to inhumane conditions and the spread of disease.

Despite the size of the home, the living conditions in this suspected puppy mill in Wolfeboro were deplorable, with a thick layer of animal waste covering the floor and the cages the dogs were bound to, and even splattered on the walls. This leads us to question how this occurred. Aren’t there laws to prevent this from happening?

Major news broke when these Great Danes were rescued from horrific conditions on June 16 by The Humane Society of the United States along with the Wolfeboro Police Department and representatives from the Conway Area Humane Society and the Pope Memorial SPCA. This situation could have been prevented, or at least the suffering the dogs endured could have been alleviated, much sooner. We are grateful to law enforcement for taking steps to rescue these animals, but we, as individuals and a community, also have the power to stop this from happening in the future.

The minimal laws in place in New Hampshire regarding commercial dog breeders are problematic because they have gaps that allow high-volume breeders to escape regulatory oversight. Media reports indicate the defendant – who ran her breeding kennels under the business name De La Sang Monde – attempted to set up shop in Maine, but when the state’s Department of Agriculture required the operator be inspected prior to receiving a license and informed her that the department would conduct unannounced inspections, she moved her business to the Granite State.

So why did she go undetected in our state for so long? The answer lies in both our paltry commercial dog breeder laws and the lack of enforcement of existing regulation.

Under current law, breeders are licensed with the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture only if the breeder sells 50 individual puppies or 10 litters in one year. This gives breeders who are still churning out a lot of dogs but fall below the threshold a way to escape regulatory inspections, leaving the door open for an unsanitary and dangerous environment for the animals. New Hampshire lawmakers should improve the existing laws by increasing regulations and by basing the definition of a commercial breeder on the number of breeding females in a commercial breeding facility, rather than the number of puppies sold – a regulation much easier to enforce.

Additionally, more resources should be spent on a system focused primarily on the well-being of animals. For example, our neighbors in Maine have taken the necessary steps to fund more resources to the regulation and protection of companion animals. New Hampshire must also allocate more resources to its Department of Agriculture to ensure adequate staffing to enforce inspection and regulation for commercial breeders, as well as prioritize the enforcement of these regulations within the department.

To make matters worse, the Legislature just passed a revision in the state budget to the once-mandatory, yearly inspections of commercial breeders to a system of voluntary, complaint-based regulation. This is the not the direction in which New Hampshire should head if we intend to avoid becoming a breeding ground for puppy mills.

Then there’s the matter of the cost for caring for these rescued animals. Who is paying to help care and rehabilitate all the rescued Great Danes? Should the burden rest on the shoulders of the taxpayers, the nonprofit organizations already paying up, or the person who caused the crisis?

Under current law, the town where the neglect occurs is responsible, which in this case means the town of Wolfeboro and its taxpayers. And since New Hampshire towns can’t possibly cover the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to care for animals in cases like these, humane organizations – like the Humane Society of the United States and our state’s nonprofit animal shelters – are placed in the difficult position of absorbing the costs of care or make the harrowing decision to not intervene. The Humane Society of the United States will care for and rehabilitate the Great Danes for several months and expects the cost to do so to reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Twenty other states have found solutions to this problem, ensuring that private, humane organizations and taxpayers are not stuck with the bill, while still protecting the rights of defendants. The New Hampshire Legislature must work to pass a comprehensive cost of animal care law that would place the cost to care for animals seized in a cruelty investigation upon the person responsible.

We need New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to continue his strong track record for animal welfare from his first year by working up a new legal framework to require stronger breeding standards, to cover more commercial breeders and to place the burden of costs on these individuals when the animal care situations they create spiral out of control.

(Lindsay Hamrick is the New Hampshire state director for The Humane Society of the United States.