So-called puppy mills and other dog and cat breeding operations would become regulated by the state, required to undergo annual inspections and criminal background checks under a bill that could come before the full House next week.
Rep. Senfronia Thomson's House Bill 1451 would classify dog and cat breeders who have 11 or more unspayed female animals as commercial breeders and require that they be licensed by the state. In addition to background checks and annual inspections, operators would be required to provide wholesome food and clean water, proper lighting and ventilation for animals confined indoors and adequate sanitation.
Supporters said current laws address only extreme cases and make it difficult for animal welfare workers to investigate puppy mills, especially if the operators bar them from their property.
Thompson's bill enjoys the support the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but breeders say it would go too far. At a committee hearing last month, dozens of witnesses, many of them breeders, testified that the measure would put them out of business while doing nothing to shut down inhumane operations.
Other breeders criticized the 11-female limit, and some argued that the annual examination and record-keeping requirements would be too expensive.
Hobby breeders would be excluded from regulation.
Thompson, D-Houston, said Thursday that she has continued to work with opponents of the bill during the past couple of months and believes she has addressed their concerns.
"Show dogs, wildlife, herding dogs — it doesn't affect them at all," she said. "If you have 11 intact females, and you're breeding them all at the same time, then you need to be licensed by the state. It's like when somebody cuts hair for free. We don't bother them. But when they start charging for their services, we need to make sure for the sake of public health that they know what they're doing."
Gib Lewis, the former House speaker who testified against the bill on behalf of the Responsible Pet Owners Association, the Texas Wildlife Association and himself, labeled the bill "extremely bad policy." He said Thursday he was opposed to it in part because PETA and other animal rights groups were pushing similar bills in state legislatures across the country.
Disagreements over cost
Lewis insisted the bill will cost taxpayers money.
"License fees won't cover what they want done," he said. "Anybody raising hunting dogs, show dogs, even cats, it will put them out of business."
Thompson's bill was sailing through the House on Thursday until state Rep. David Simpson, a freshman Republican from Longview, objected to it being a part of the local and consent calendar, which Thompson chairs. He also objected to the substance of the measure.
"Look, I'm all for enforcing animal cruelty laws," he said. "But these licensing and regulation requirements affects the law-abiding when what we need to do is punish the wrongdoers."
He also disagreed with Thompson's contention that the bill would have no financial implications for the state.