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Pork picks a dogfight, stops bill

A bill aimed at combating puppy mills by regulating commercial dog breeders in North Carolina has failed for the second straight year, in part due to opposition from an industry that doesn’t deal in dogs: the state’s pork producers.

The N.C. Pork Council, which represents a $2.2 billion industry in the state, opposed Senate Bill 460, which sought to “eliminate abusive practices and provide for the humane care and treatment of dogs and puppies by establishing standards for their care at commercial breeding operations.”

Angie Whitener, the pork council’s lobbyist, said her group does not oppose puppies so much as the bill’s main backers, the Humane Society of the United States.

“Our opposition is solely based on the proponent of the bill,” Whitener said. “We’re very worried about this powerful, very wealthy animal rights organization.”

The bill, which did not address livestock, was narrowly approved by the Senate last year. The House sent it to its finance committee, where it stalled this week because, according to the chairman, it was “too divisive.”

“There was a lot of acrimony, and we decided as chairs not to take it up,” said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat and the House Finance Committee’s senior chairman. “It seems to make more sense to start over in 2011 and try to build a consensus bill.”

The Humane Society estimates there are about 300 puppy mills in the state that go unnoticed because owners sell the dogs on the Internet.

Last year, authorities rescued hundreds of dogs from a suspected Wayne County puppy mill. And in April, Guilford County sheriff’s deputies seized nearly 100 dogs from a breeding kennel whose owner was indicted last month on 12 counts of cruelty to animals by a Guilford County grand jury, according to the (Greensboro) News & Record.

The bill would define commercial breeders as someone who sells dogs and has 15 or more female dogs and 30 or more puppies. It calls for these operations to provide daily exercise, veterinary care, appropriate housing and recordkeeping. The bill would also require commercial breeders to register with the state’s Department of Agriculture and give counties authority to investigate violations related to commercial breeding operations.

Sen. Don Davis, a Greene County Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it was meant to “take precautionary measures to make sure dogs are not kept in the worst conditions.” Pet shops and animal shelters in the state are subject to similar regulations, Davis said.

“This would simply bring individual commercial breeding in line with that practice,” he said.

But Whitener, the pork council’s lobbyist, said the bill was about more than dogs. She said she believes the Humane Society’s end goal is to eventually stop meat production for human consumption.

Whitener noted that the Humane Society of the United States sponsored Proposition 2, a ballot initiative passed two years ago in California. Among other regulations, the law requires that calves, chickens and pigs be kept in areas where they can freely lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. It was intended to ban the use of tightly confining crates for breeding sows and cages for hens. Californians overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure.

Whitener also pointed to a news release on the Humane Society’s website that said the organization had purchased stock in Krispy Kreme, the doughnut company based in Winston-Salem, and planned to encourage “Krispy Kreme to move away from egg suppliers that confine hens in cages.”

“This shows what their true intentions are,” in North Carolina, Whitener said.

But Kim Alboum, the Humane Society’s lobbyist, who has been trying to get the bill passed, said North Carolina is not a ballot measure state, so it could not replicate something like California’s Proposition 2.

And S.B. 460 “was just about the thousands of dogs that are suffering in puppy mills in North Carolina,” Alboum said. “The slippery-slope argument is insulting to our legislators because they vote on the merits of each individual bill. Because they vote to regulate this unregulated industry does not mean they are going to vote for every animal bill.”

But dog groups also oppose the bill. Steve Wallis, president and lobbyist for the N.C. Federation of Dog Clubs, said the bill would hurt hobby breeders and cause counties to spend money they don’t have to enforce such a law.