Prop B Goes Under the Knife

Missouri’s Proposition B (dog breeder) law “won by a decisive margin,” Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle declared last month. News reports called that same three-percent margin “slim,” “narrow,” and “razor-thin.” But no matter. A law is a law even if it passes by a handful of votes. Right?

Not so fast.

While HSUS is busy arguing that once a law is passed (an HSUS-backed law, anyway), it should be set in stone, Missouri lawmakers are busily bringing Prop B back to reality by amending it.

Laws are changed all the time as legislators consider and react to real-world impacts. Just look at any number of “reform” measures passed by Congress over the years. Constitutions have amendment processes built-in. If laws weren’t subject to change, most Americans would be without basic rights today.

In the case of Prop B, what’s happening is just another turn of the legislative circle of life. And probably not even the intensity of an HSUS "Lobby Day" in Jefferson City will be able to stop it. 

A month after the November election, rumblings of a “repeal” movement emerged from various parts of Missouri. Five days into the new year, a crowd of 600 gathered in a central Missouri town to hear their state legislator address the topic.

Born partly of anger at an opportunistic group of animal rights out-of-towners, and partly of shock at Missouri’s stark urban-rural split on the issue, the call from some corners for a “do-over” has been steady and insistent.

Missourians, of course, have a right to be upset at HSUS for barnstorming across the Mississippi river armed with a 7-figure check. As of December 2, HSUS had shifted $2,113,806 of its funds to the Prop B campaign. That’s the equivalent of 9,271 Americans donating “just $19 per month” for a whole year.

Pacelle clearly noticed the post-election uproar, as he personally came back to Jefferson City last month to try to stem what looks to be an inevitable tide. (Pacelle even registered as a Missouri lobbyist.)

But so far, Pacelle’s efforts to save his “puppy mill” law have been fruitless. On Tuesday a Missouri House committee unanimously approved a “fix” bill that would gut Prop B of the provisions HSUS cherished most. Notably neutered was a clause limiting the number of fertile adult dogs a breeder could own. (Some farmers, noting Prop B's overly broad definition of "pet," feared the limit on dogs would ultimately be applied equally to cows, pigs, and chickens.)

HSUS’s political strategists must be frustrated, having spent heavily on what will amount to a meaningless victory. During the fast and furious election season, HSUS’s deep pockets bought them a disproportionate advantage. But now that a calmer debate is proceeding, Lobbyist Pacelle is just one voice of many.

The KC Dog Blog has an excellent summary of where things stand with Prop B. And from where blogger Brent Toellner sits, HSUS doesn’t look too good:

There is little doubt that changes will be made — and this is in spite of HSUS' continue[d] approach that there should be "no compromises".  But there have to be. Because the law is not workable in its current form.

So instead of taking the approach of actually coming up with compromise solutions, they continue to send emails to Missouri residents claiming we should insist that the law stay in place in spite of its problems.

It shouldn't be a big surprise that HSUS and Wayne Pacelle would be on the unreasonable side of this.  This is, after all, the same Wayne Pacelle that insisted that the dogs confiscated from Mike Vick's kennels were the "most dangerous they had ever seen" — in spite of the reports from evaluators that most were "pancake dogs" that would cower at the sight of new humans. This is the same Wayne Pacelle that thought these dogs should all be killed without an evaluation — even though the majority are doing well now living as members of society. This is the same Wayne Pacelle that welcomed Mike Vick back with open arms, has said he is rehabili[t]ated, and that he would be a good dog owner again some day — in spite of Vick's handlers saying they don't care about the dogs and that he is frequently heard complaining about having to lecture people on the horrors of dog fighting.

So it shouldn't be a surprise if Pacelle, and HSUS, are found to be unreasonable …  it is the unreasonable among us that have become the most dominant voices. It is HSUS, who has the money to make themselves the dominant voice — but only if we let them.

If you don’t see things Toellner’s way, you might prefer to rely on a veterinarian’s judgment instead. (We heard from one ourselves earlier in the week.) In that case, you’re in luck.

Dr. Bud Hertzog is a Board member of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and a former president of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, which has named an award in his honor (for doctors who show “outstanding vision, leadership and personal sacrifice for the betterment of the veterinary profession in Missouri, and the United States”).

Dr. Hertzog had a few choice words about Prop B in Monday’s Kansas City Star:

Proposition B was promoted and financed by radical animal rights groups that do not understand the present animal laws we have in Missouri. The enforcement of the Missouri laws has been hindered by a lack of funding to hire additional inspectors to find unlicensed dog breeding facilities in the state. Proposition B will not stop unlicensed breeders.

Proposition B is a misguided and flawed attempt to prevent abuse in the Missouri dog breeding industry. But if it is enacted it will present more serious problems.

Probably the best thing to emerge from this particular legislative melee for true animal welfare advocates will be the increase of licensing fees for dog breeders. The added revenue will subsidize more animal welfare inspections of dog breeders. This is a wiser way of preventing animal abuse than ruining the livelihoods of thousands of law-abiding people (and, ironically, dumping tens of thousands of their animals on already over-burdened shelters).

Missourians should demand a do-over, for many of the reasons Toellner and Hertzog explore. But more importantly, they have the right to determine what happens inside the borders of their state without unreasonable meddling from HSUS.

Outside influences constitute a fundamental weakness of ballot initiatives. Garden-variety legislation is open to debate and modification (and public hearings) along the way. But “direct democracy” can sometimes be driven by radicals with gobs of money and a talent for emotional PR.

In this case, HSUS’s leaders paid professional signature gatherers to validate their proposal. They rolled out their sad-puppy images over a short period of time. And they wielded their blunt-instrument initiative, saying in effect: “Take it or leave it.” (A majority in 100 Missouri counties said "No thanks,")

Using the ordinary legislative process would have been messier. For one thing, HSUS would have had to defend its ideas publicly. And it might have had to compromise. (It looks like that’s going to happen anyway.)

If it wanted to, HSUS could put its best foot forward and make Missourians less suspicious. A good place to start would be to generously support the Missouri pet shelters that its in-state donors likely think they’re subsidizing.

In 2009, HSUS’s total shelter giving in the Show-Me state was less than $43,000. That’s only about 2 percent of what it spent the following year to pass Prop B.

No wonder it’s so noisy in Missouri.  The sound you hear is the barking of homeless dogs, shouting, “What about us?”