Gov. John Kasich has signed a bill that lowers production thresholds and enforces new care standards on high-volume puppy breeders and sellers, sometimes called “puppy mills.”
Photo: Shannon O'Brien
Photo: Shannon O'Brien

Ohio law strict on puppy mills, but enforcement of new standards questioned

Until this year, an Ohio dog breeder could keep a female breeding dog in a cage up to six years with little time for exercise and no limits on how many litters the animal could produce.

Following intense negotiations and threats of an amendment to the state’s constitution, a new law passed this summer that sets Ohio higher standards on high-volume dog breeders – sometimes called “puppy mills” – than most other states, according to those who helped craft the bill.

But those looking out for the rights of animals say it remains unclear whether Ohio has the tools and staff to enforce those standards, said a Humane Society of the United States activist involved in the negotiations.

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“If enforcement is not adequate, that may be something we have to revisit,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign at for the Humane Society.

For years, Ohio was landed on the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” report that lists what it calls problem puppy mills. This year’s list, which ranked Ohio second worst in the U.S. for puppy mills with bad conditions and treatment of dogs, said the state had 13 problem dog breeding facilities.

Ohio is now among about 35 states have some sort of commercial regulations for dog breeding kennels. They range from bare bones prohibitions on harming animals to setting care standards and requiring inspections.

‘We had to get prescriptive’

The new law forbids certain conditions or practices, limiting the number of litters a female dog can produce in a lifetime to eight, forbidding the use of wire flooring — even plastic-coated wire flooring — where dogs are kept and forbidding the stacking of those cages.

Dogs are required to get exercise and socialization daily. They are supposed to get continuous access to water and meals at least twice a day, according to requirements.

Those conditions and more had to improve because mother dogs can stay in breeding mills for as long as six years, Goodwin said.

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The bill requires pet retailers or dog brokers to get a signed document from suppliers attesting that they have complied with Ohio’s standards of care for these dogs.

Said Goodwin, “We had to get quite prescriptive.”

The law takes effect Sept. 28.

Enforcement

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has about four inspectors to inspect commercial breeding facilities, and this bill lowers the threshold for inspections. It goes from inspecting facilities that produce nine litters and public sales of 60 puppies a year to businesses that have six breeding dogs and sell five dogs or puppies to pet stores, sells 40 puppies to the public or has on site each year 40 puppies under the age of four months.

“Four people will have quite a job on their hands, and there are hundreds of these places,” Goodwin said.

Enforcement is always an issue, and lawmakers are charged as legislators not to pass rules when residents and businesses have neither the means nor the desire to enforce them, said State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City.

Next year is a budget year, and Ohio right now is financially strong, Beagle said. “Hopefully we have the resources we need to enforce the new measures.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture confirmed that the department has just four inspectors for the task ahead.

But the department thinks those are enough.

“Our staff believes it will be able to handle the additional licensees the new regulations will create for us, but we are still in the process of identifying exactly how many new licensees that will be,” said public information officer Ashley McDonald.

By law, the program is required to visit each licensed facility a minimum of once a calendar year, she said. If violations are found, a follow-up re inspection is conducted.

“All of these inspections require an inspector to physically inspect the premises where the dogs are housed,” McDonald said. “Typically, our inspections are almost always unannounced.”

Said Goodwin, “It’s a good bill, and we want it to be treated as such.”

Coming to the table

Ohio has become a pioneer in the field, said Mike Gonidakis, a lobbyist on behalf of Petland, who called House Bill 506 (as the legislation was known) a “first-in-the-nation agreement.”

“Ohio is the gold standard, I would argue, for the pet industry, as it relates to the sale and the breeding of puppies” Gonidakis said.

The legislation makes animal welfare a top priority, recognizes that there are good breeders and recognizes that responsible pet stores buy from those breeders, Gonidakis said.

Paul Yoder, chairman of the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association, said the new law works for his breeders.

“I would say the guys who are in it for the long haul, if they want to do what’s right, they’ll step up and do what’s required,” Yoder said.

Pressure to pass bill

Spurred by its experience in another state, the Humane Society gathered signatures this year for a ballot initiative that would let Ohio voters enshrine new dog breeding and care standards in the Ohio constitution.

The society had some 3,100 volunteers across Ohio request packets to gather signatures — a gratifying level of support, Goodwin said. One woman in Franklin County collected 19,000 signatures “by herself,” he said.

Some observers argued that was the wrong approach. Dog breeding standards change as science changes, and the only way to update the state’s constitution is to return to the ballot, Gonidakis said.

“We said, look, there’s a better way,” he said. “It’s called the legislature.”

The bill was first introduced in January 2018, and at first, the Humane Society and its allies opposed it.

“But significant changes were made that brought it pretty close to what we’re trying to achieve our ballot initiative,” Goodwin said. “And at that point, we signed on and lobbied (for the bill) in strong support.”

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