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Charlotte shelter rescues 19 dogs, legislators to vote soon on ‘puppy mill’ bill

They found the dogs in concrete kennels in a 20-foot by 50-foot building with a leaky roof and no heating or air conditioning.

Some of the Maltese-breed dogs had matted hair and wet fur; others suffered from more serious dental and eye problems.

The Humane Society of Charlotte on Saturday rescued 19 of the dogs in the worst condition, after the owner of the western North Carolina puppy mill agreed to give them up. The owner promised to seek veterinary care for the ones that were left behind, humane society President Shelly Moore said.

Animal control officers and the Humane Society of the United States also helped with Saturday’s rescue, said Jorge Ortega, vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Charlotte.

Ortega declined to identify the mill’s owner or its location, saying that he didn’t want to tamper with an investigation by the animal control office.

The rescue comes on the eve of a decision by the state House about whether to pass North Carolina’s first commercial breeding law. State representatives are expected to vote this week on House Bill 930.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, would require any person who owns more than nine adult female dogs to provide preventive veterinary care for the animals and follow other standards or risk criminal charges and a fine of up to $1,000.

There are no such standards for commercial breeders in North Carolina. And most local animal cruelty statutes, including Charlotte’s, require authorities to have proof of physical neglect or abuse before they can make an arrest.

“We want to give a road map for law enforcement to not have to wait for animals to be so abused and so neglected for them to act,” Saine said Saturday. “Without stricter laws, we end up being a dumping ground for bad actors.”

Thirty-five states, including neighbors Virginia and Tennessee, have laws that govern breeders who sell to the public, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York.

The number of people operating puppy mills in North Carolina, where several attempts in recent years to pass legislation on the issue have failed, has increased as a result, Charlotte humane society veterinarian Judi Vogt said.

The Humane Society used to respond to only a couple of puppy mill raids a year.

But over the past couple of years, the group has participated in four to six rescues annually, Moore said as humane society staffers unloaded the Maltese rescues.

“Usually what you see is lack of veterinary care and lack of normal, common maintenance,” Vogt said. “The dogs usually aren’t shaved. They have bad teeth, bad eyes, bad feet, bad skin.”

In addition to providing veterinary care, commercial breeders would have to provide safe lodging and bedding for their dogs if the bill is passed. Daily access to exercise and frequent access to fresh food and water are also provisions.

The requirements are modeled on the American Kennel Club’s standard of care, Saine said.

He pointed to the bill’s 29 bipartisan co-sponsors as proof of its support.

“We accomplished that without any real lobbying,” he said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Past legislation attempts failed, the representative said, because the language of those bills was too broad. People in the agriculture industry worried the legislation would be applied to their livestock.

A recently released poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, showed 87 percent of N.C. voters favor a law that would set standards of care for commercial breeders.

“We spent months on end making sure our bill was very narrow,” Saine said.

Moore and other Charlotte animal rights activists said they would like to have seen stricter provisions included in the bill – like requiring commercial breeders to be licensed and inspected – but think it is a good first step.

Especially if it passes.

“In this type of operation, the whole job of the dogs is to just produce puppies over and over,” Vogt said, gesturing to the newly rescued Malteses at the humane society. “That’s not a good life for any animal.”

Staff writer Elisabeth Arriero contributed

Steele: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @steelecs
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