Vermont H. 218 weakens cold weather protection of farm dogs too, agree two of state’s senior animal advocates
MONTPELIER, Vermont––Pushing a Vermont state bill, H. 218, that would reduce the required cage space for dogs the size of Chihuahuas in breeding kennels by more than 75%, and would reduce the required breeding kennel cage space for dogs ranging in size from beagles to Labrador retrievers by half, Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle nonetheless had the chutzpah to focus his Mother’s Day and “Day of Giving” appeal on HSUS activity pertaining to “puppy mills.”
Implored Pacelle, “As we honor mothers everywhere this weekend, let’s remember the plight of dogs who spend their entire lives caged in puppy mills. These mothers are forced, over and over again, to produce puppies for profit under conditions of unimaginable cruelty.”
The HSUS fundraising target for their “Day of Giving” puppy mill campaign was $125,000 –– more than the entire annual budget of ANIMALS 24-7.
Bill advanced under advocates’ radar
Promoted in the name of improving dog care standards, Vermont H. 218 had already cleared both the Vermont house of representatives and the Vermont senate and had been sent to Governor Phil Scott to be signed into law before the markedly reduced space requirements for dog breeding kennels came to the notice of animal advocacy organizations and news media.
Animal advocates including former USDA inspector Peggy Larson, DVM, whose Cat Spay/Neuter Clinic in Colchester sterilized nearly 80,000 animals in 23 years of operation, and Sue Skaskiw, of Bridgewater, who founded Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals in 1986, immediately launched a last-ditch effort to urge Scott to veto H. 218.
Rolls back cage sizes to 1966
If allowed to take effect, H. 218 would roll back arguably the most generous kennel space allowances in the U.S. to the bare minimums prescribed for 51 years by the federal Animal Welfare Act of 1970 and the predecessor Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966.
Explained Skaskiw, in a statement amplified nationally by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, “Ten years ago I worked with the Vermont legislature to increase the cage size for dogs and cats, as the federal minimum-sized cages were too small and cruel. H. 218 would undo that positive work and condemn animals used in breeding facilities to even more suffering.”
Added Skaskiw to Matt Hongoltz-Hetling of the Lebanon, New Hampshire Valley News, which covers much of eastern Vermont as well as New Hampshire, “Nobody who has a cat or dog as a beloved companion animal would ever confine their animal in the way that this bill allows.”
“Anyone who has a pet would shudder”
Agreed Larson, “The only ones who benefit from this legislation are those who exploit dogs and cats and whose only concern is profit. Anyone who has a pet would shudder to think of them locked in a tiny cage for most of their life. We need those people to join with us in getting this legislation stopped.”
SHARK, with offices in Illinois and New Jersey, took an interest in H. 218, said representative Stuart Chaifetz, because “Animals who spend most of their lives in cages already experience great distress and misery. The people of Vermont cared enough to enlarge those cages a decade ago. That success must not be overturned by bad legislation and the misguided groups who are supporting it.”
Old law was unenforceable?
Acknowledged Chaifetz, “One of the arguments misused to promote H. 218 is that current law is unenforceable.”
Responded Skaskiw, “That is 100% false. Using current law, Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals and the Windsor County Sheriff went to a puppy mill in Baltimore,” a town of fewer than 250 residents.
“A civil citation was issued,” Skaskiw said, “because of the small cage sizes, and the owner was required to double cage sizes for many of his dogs. If H. 218 is signed into law, that puppy mill owner will be able to go back to cramming dogs into small cages,” as can others.
Farm dogs could now be left outdoors
“An additional problem created by H. 218,” SHARK noted, “is that it removes the housing requirement for dogs who guard livestock.”
“I’ve pulled a dead, frozen dog from a snow bank that died in one of our harsh winters,” states Skaskiw. “Dogs, like any creature, get frostbite, hypothermia, and can suffer a horrible death. It makes no sense to remove that minimum housing requirement.”
Explained Hongoltz-Hetling to Valley News readers, “Under the current law, “a dog maintained out-of-doors must be provided with suitable housing that assures that the dog is protected from wind and draft, and from excessive sun, rain and other environmental hazards throughout the year.”
H. 218 “grants an exception to this shelter requirement for ‘a healthy livestock guardian dog that is maintained outdoors in an enclosure.’
Bill author claims limits that are not there
Hartland state representative John Bartholomew, DVM, a Democrat who formerly supervised animal care in research laboratories, told Hongoltz-Hetling that the exception is meant, Hongoltz-Hetling wrote, “only to apply to a very specific range of uncommon certified guardian dog breeds –— such as Anatolian shepherds and Maremma sheepdogs — that are actively guarding sheep or other livestock.”
But that is not what H. 218 says. According to the bill text, “’Livestock guardian dog’ means a purpose-bred dog that is: (A) specifically trained to live with livestock without causing them harm while repelling predators; (B) being used to live with and guard livestock; and (C) acclimated to local weather conditions.”
What “acclimated to local weather conditions” means is left to the imagination. The bill says nothing about coat length, size, or body fat. In absence of clear definitions, the exemption for “livestock guardian dogs” could as easily be interpreted to exempt border collies as Anatolian shepherds and Maremmas.
Who supports H. 218?
Bartholomew and Pacelle claim support for H. 218 from the Vermont Humane Federation, the Vermont Federation of Dog Clubs, which represents dog breeders, and the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association.
The Vermont Humane Federation lists 25 member organizations, including the Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society of the U.S., whose state representative, Barry Londeree, was elected VHF vice president in 2015 despite having only been in Vermont and an HSUS employee for a matter of months.
Londeree previously spent nearly eight years as legislative assistant to former U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-Virginia), now retired, who was longtime chair of the Congressional Animal Welfare Caucus. Arriving in Vermont in March 2015, Londeree spent five months as program support officer for the Vermont Cancer Center in Burlington before succeeding former HSUS state representative Joanne Borbeau.
Volunteer Services not in Humane Federation
Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals is not a member of the Vermont Humane Federation. Skaskiw in 2013-2014 fought and ultimately lost a lawsuit that went to the Vermont Supreme Court after Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals lost a contract to operate the Vermont Spay/Neuter Incentive Program to another organization, VT-CAN, which is a VHF member.
Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals had held the contract for six years, but lost it after responsibility for administrating the Vermont Spay/Neuter Incentive Program was transferred from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
Vets unaware of VVMA position?
Vermont Veterinary Medical Association executive director Kathryn Finnie testified to the Vermont House Committee on Agriculture & Forest Products in February 2017 that H. 218 would “provide humane investigators with a more specific checklist and measurable standards when they review cases of alleged animal cruelty.”
But Larson, a Vermont Veterinary Medical Association member for more than 30 years, told ANIMALS 24-7 that she polled five fellow members and found that none of them were aware the VVMA had taken the position Finnie did, or favored it.
“More nuanced set of guidelines”
Deciphered Hongoltz-Hetling of the Valley Times, “Under current Vermont law, caged dogs need to be provided a minimum amount of living space based on which of five weight divisions the animal falls into. Dogs weighing less than 25 pounds should get a minimum of 12 square feet; dogs of 100 pounds or more should get 30 square feet.”
H. 218 “would do away with a simple weight standard, and apply a more nuanced set of guidelines, with three different standards,” wrote Hongoltz-Hetling. “Dog breeders, veterinarians and animal research laboratories would be required to use the measure that would give the most space to each animal. The first standard is by weight: small dogs who weigh less than 33 pounds would get eight square feet; medium-sized dogs of between 33 and 66 pounds would get a minimum of 12 square feet; and large dogs of more than 66 pounds would get 24 square feet.
“The second standard uses a formula based on the length of a dog, as measured from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. The longer the dog, the more space. The third standard is based on what the dog can do in the cage — the dog must be able to turn freely , sit, lie down and stand.”
Much of H. 218 “already in statute”
Pointed out Skaskiw to ANIMALS 24-7, “Some of the provisions are already in statute. While they may be a bit more defined in H. 218, and that is a help,” that “each dog housed in the structure shall have sufficient space to, in a normal manner, turn about freely, stand, sit, and lie down,” is “already in statute,” as is the requirement of H. 218 that “outdoor shelters be accessible, structurally sound, enclosed, clean, dry, and provide protection from the elements.”
Pacelle calls objections “absurd”
Informed of the SHARK announcement made on behalf of Skaskiw and Larson during the 2017 HSUS Animal Care Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, HSUS president Pacelle was predictably furious.
“We firmly believe that animal groups should attack animal abusers, and not animal advocacy groups,” Pacelle e-mailed back to at least one HSUS donor. “Let me start by saying that the proposition that HSUS is ‘pro-puppy mill’ is absurd, and for SHARK or anyone to make that claim demonstrates almost no familiarity or understanding of our work. HSUS runs an “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign, and it’s the most sophisticated, high-impact, multi-channel anti-puppy mill campaign,” Pacelle claimed, “in the animal movement.
“In 2015,” Pacelle continued, “HSUS and partners submitted a legal petition to the USDA requesting that they upgrade the minimum standards of care for dogs held in USDA-licensed mills. That includes large living areas and outdoor access,” which begged the question of why, then, HSUS is pushing a bill which would roll Vermont state law back to the 51-year-old Animal Welfare Act standards enforced by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
Says H 218 is not “pro-puppy mill”
“Regarding the Vermont legislation,” Pacelle continued, “which is one of hundreds and hundreds of animal welfare bills that HSUS weighs in on in state legislatures around the nation, let me again emphatically state that SHARK characterizing H. 218 as ‘pro-puppy mill’ couldn’t be further from the truth. The intent of the bill was to make widespread improvements (in both clarity and enforceability) to the outdoor shelter standards for pets (a broader category than mills. Fortunately, Vermont is not one of the major puppy mill states in the U.S.
“Obviously, SHARK opposed, and there was one other animal group we learned that opposed the measure, and a couple of prominent animal advocates in the state. We never like to be in a position,” Pacelle said, “where other animal groups or advocates are on the other side, but in almost all of those cases, those are judgment calls for us on what’s achievable and what baseline we can establish to build upon.”
A 50% to 75% cage size reduction is “laughable”?
But why roll the Vermont baseline back 51 years?
Pacelle did not explain.
“To characterize us as aligned with puppy mills or vivisectors,” Pacelle went on, “is truly laughable. The bill passed the Vermont senate by voice vote and the Vermont house 134 to 4,” a degree of unanimity suggesting only that just four Vermont state legislators gave a damn about reducing breeding dogs’ spaces requirements by from half to three-fourths.
“While HSUS would certainly prefer that no companion animal spend his/her life in a cage and never be inhibited from coming inside into a warm and loving home,” Pacelle said, “reality is that there are still people who keep dogs outside all the time, even in northern states such as Vermont. We work in the world as it exists… Living space is an important element in the health and welfare of pets kept in this manner, and we work hard on that issue every day. But anyone concerned about dogs knows that there are additional elements that we’ve got to focus on, too.”
Why trade cage space for what is already law?
But why trade half to three-quarters of a dog’s living space for provisions that were already in Vermont state law?
Pacelle praised H. 218 for specifying “that animals must be provided with a separate area of shade, and that enclosures should be large enough for all dogs individually or at the same time. It prohibits metal barrels, cars, refrigerators, freezers, or similar objects from being used as shelter,” Pacelle said. “And it specifies that snow and ice are not adequate water sources, and puts restrictions,” which already existed, “on allowing dogs to be maintained outdoors when temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Again, if that sounds like a puppy mill bill, then I don’t know what to say.
“We are not the least bit influenced by the puppy mill or animal research lobbies. We have a long history of this work in Vermont,” Pacelle asserted, “where we’ve led efforts to establish registration and inspection procedures for dog breeders.”
No meaningful definition of “breeder”
Responded Skaskiw, “Currently the sale of two, or is it three litters, defines a breeder. I’ve argued for years that no one, no agency, can or will keep track of how many litters are sold. Ideally the definition should be that if you breed and sell dogs, you are a breeder, and should pay taxes on the sales.
“Years ago,” Skaskiw recalled, “Vermont Volunteers for Animals tracked sales [through classified ads] in several newspapers. There were hundreds of breeders making thousands of dollars and not paying taxes,” but the Internal Revenue Service and Vermont Department of Taxes “weren’t interested in pursuing it,” Skaskiw said, because “They felt it wasn’t enough income” to be worth seeking the taxes on it.
How many busts can there be with weaker standards?
Skaskiw acknowledged the HSUS contribution to obtaining “felony-level animal cruelty violations,” mentioned by Pacelle, but pointed out that felony cruelty cases are seldom actually pursued.
Pacelle also mentioned that HSUS had helped to “form an Animal Cruelty Investigations Advisory Board to improve the state’s response to cruelty complaints.”
Objected Skaskiw, “This strives to take away the ability of humane officers from humane societies to investigate acts of cruelty. This advisory board,” Skaskiw charged, “is driven not to help animals, but to tie the hands of those out in the field.”
“We stand ready,” Pacelle finished, “to rescue animals from large-scale hoarders and puppy mills in Vermont.”
But how many rescues will there be with the cage space requirements rolled back to 1966 standards?