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Puppy mills in Ohio to face regulations, but so will rescue-group volunteers

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Jen D'Aurelio, the executive director of Paws & Prayers holds Nellie, a female five-month-old border collie mix that is currently in the rescue group's fostering program Wednesday in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

Ohio lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday aimed at regulating large-scale dog-breeding operations with the goal of improving the lives of animals in facilities commonly called “puppy mills.”

Senate Bill 130 has “been in the making for seven years,” said Vicki Deisner, state director of the Midwest region of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA has worked continually with Ohio lawmakers over the past six months to get the bill into law.

“There are estimated to be about 4,000 commercial breeding kennels in Ohio,” which was among 22 states with no regulations of its high-volume operations, Deisner said.

Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law before the first of the year.

Ohio for the first time will regulate conditions in the large breeding facilities and will force their owners to register the businesses and undergo annual inspections to improve the care and treatment of breeding dogs.

Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, who sponsored the bill, said it would “seek out breeders who do not maintain a healthy environment for their animals.”

Many times, the life of the animal in the breeding operations is one of sickness and horror, Deisner said.

“It’s like having a beagle in your dishwasher,” she said, referring to the confined space in which many animals spend their entire lives.

Many rescue agencies participated in developing the guidelines for the law, Deisner said.

“There were so many rescues that did support this bill that it really is a significant foundation — a significant beginning to address the puppy mills in this state,” she said.

But the law also contains language that concerns some local animal-rescue operations. Tucked inside is a measure that requires the numerous rescue volunteers who foster unwanted animals to register with the state and face inspection if a complaint is lodged against them.

“People are always afraid that somebody is going to judge them, so if inspectors go into a foster home that is trying to do the right thing and foster dogs, well, hopefully it doesn’t get into that,” said Jen D’Aurelio, executive director of Paws and Prayers animal rescue, based in Cuyahoga Falls.

The agency, which has found homes for more than 5,000 unwanted cats and dogs since D’Aurelio took over as director in 2007, has about 40 volunteers who foster animals in their homes until they can be adopted at events held each weekend at area PetSmart stores.

“We run a legitimate rescue, and we abide by all the laws. If somebody wanted to come in and inspect one of our foster homes, I doubt they would find anything wrong,” D’Aurelio said. “On the other hand, it will make it harder to find fosters because people don’t even want to do home visits when they are adopting a dog.”

Deisner, however, believes the law will have little effect on local rescue groups.

“There are no fees. There are no new standards. They simply have to register,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s business as usual.”

Enforcing standards

The bill also excludes hobby and show breeders, sporting or hunting dog breeders, pet stores and small “backyard” breeders who sell fewer than 60 dogs from fewer than eight litters a year.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is charged with overseeing the new law. A board will advise the state director of agriculture in developing the standards for the health, caging, grooming and other care of the breeding dogs.

Enforcement of the new regulations will be paid with income from license fees charged to registered breeders, Deisner said. The Department of Agriculture will contract with local veterinarians to conduct inspections annually or when a complaint is filed.

There was a reason the legislation includes rescue organizations as well as breeders, Deisner said.

“Several years ago, the ASPCA came into Ohio and did a rescue in Clark County. We had to intervene and close down a hoarding operation. Sadly, as many as one-quarter of animal hoarders call themselves rescues,” Deisner said.

Local groups weigh in

One of a Kind Pet Rescue, another high-volume Akron adoption agency, uses few foster homes, so the impact of the new law will be minimal — at least for now, said Georjette Thomas, director of organization advancement.

“At present, our foster care program is a very small part of what we do; however, we intend to significantly grow the program in 2013,” Thomas said.

Paws With Pride founder and director Janice Mayfield, who has been involved in animal rescue for 25 years, said her agency re-homes about 200 animals a year using a foster care system.

“If you are a good, legitimate animal rescue, it shouldn’t affect you at all. If someone is doing something they shouldn’t, they should be stopped,” she said.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com. The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.