WOODY and Bebe, my two Jack Russell terriers, remind me every day that we have a big challenge to overcome in West Virginia. While my dogs get plenty of love and affection, this is not the case for thousands of dogs currently living in puppy mills throughout the state.
I have seen firsthand how horrible life can be for dogs raised and used for breeding in these disreputable operations. It is not uncommon to find dogs who have never touched grass or experienced playing with a human companion. These dogs are usually in terrible condition, typically with matted hair so thick they are unable to even walk. They can suffer from parasites as well as dental and ear infections. They are fearful of humans as a result of spending their entire lives in a small cage, used only as a producer, never a pet. Dogs are, by nature, companion animals, and they do not deserve such treatment, lacking in what we provide our pets with on a daily basis, including companionship and security.
West Virginia lacks any laws to adequately protect dogs in commercial breeding facilities, unlike in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia. Over the past few years, The Humane Society of the United States has helped law enforcement remove sick and injured dogs, but they need new tools to prevent such cruelties from occurring in the first place.
While existing West Virginia animal cruelty laws protect dogs from malicious or intentional acts of abuse, they do not include standards of care for dogs at commercial breeding facilities such as cleanliness, safe shelter, clean food and water and regular veterinary care. Nor do cruelty laws require commercial dog breeding operations in West Virginia to be inspected for health and welfare standards. Officers throughout the state want the tools to help dogs before they are suffering from severe neglect. Legislators recently voted, by a wide margin, to approve a new law to protect dogs and consumers. It is time for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to sign this bill into law to crack down on puppy mill cruelty.
Surprisingly, groups such as the American Kennel Club oppose virtually any proposed regulation of dog breeding facilities. But without minimum standards of care, some unscrupulous breeders will cut corners at the expense of animal health and well-being. Responsible breeders strive to sell the healthiest dogs possible by providing the best care they can, and they should not be undercut by bad actors. Because responsible breeders emphasize welfare over profit, they are careful about placing their puppies and will not sell to pet stores or online.
I love my dogs, and I cannot imagine my life without them. That is why I, along with the rest of my colleagues at The HSUS, support responsible breeders. The HSUS does not support those who abuse and neglect dogs, and neither do the majority of West Virginians.
Please ask Gov. Tomblin to sign this bill to ensure that our state is free of this cruelty and abuse.
Wyatt is West Virginia state director for The Humane Society of the United States.