Breeders who keep hundreds of cats and dogs in cramped, squalid surroundings are the target of a bill filed Wednesday that would regulate the housing of large numbers of animals.
The bill would require those with more than 11 unneutered female animals to submit to licensing, annual inspections, background checks and penalties as high as $5,000 per animal if they violate minimum care standards.
Advocates say the legislation will allow the state to regulate breeders and prevent animal cruelty in so-called puppy mills. Opponents say the bill puts unnecessary strain on small breeders and could put them out of business.
"We really want to clean up this industry because we think the animals deserve better," said Houston Democrat Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who filed the legislation. "I think that most persons who love animals and who want to take care of them want them to be in that type of environment."
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The legislation would create a commercial breeder license and an advisory council that would set minimum standards for staffing, cages, food and socialization of animals.
Mass seizures of dogs and cats from breeders around the country have shown animals malnourished, kept in a continuous breeding cycles and with injuries or illnesses from being kept in small, unclean cages. They flood shelters with hundreds of animals who usually have health and behavior problems, and a low probability of adoption.
The proposed bill would also make it illegal to operate as or deal with an unlicensed breeder and would cap breeders at 50 unneutered adult animals.
The American Kennel Club has opposed similar licensing legislation in other states, saying they put unnecessary strain on small, responsible breeders without addressing animal cruelty.
"You could have one dog and treat him badly, you could have 100 dogs and take exceptional care of them," said Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the national organization.
She also said requirements for breeders regarding space, facilities and staffing could force those who work out of their homes to either move their facilities at great expense or shut down.
The Texas Human Legislation Network, which worked with Thompson on the legislation, said the bill isn't aimed at hobby breeders and allows those with less than 10 breeding females to continue to operate without a license.
"We definitely want the responsible breeders out there, the people who are in it for the love of the animal, to back this bill," said Susan Hendrix, spokeswoman for the lobbying group. "It's not that we're trying to eliminate all dog breeding out there; we just want it to be done responsibly."
Breeders who sell directly to consumers are not regulated in Texas, and investigations typically start with complaints from neighbors and the community.
The American Kennel Club inspects breeders who are registered with them, and federal law requires breeders be inspected only if they sell to third parties.