On Friday, May 3, the Governor of West Virginia signed into a law our state’s first law related to commercial breeding of dogs. This law, which was almost five years in the making, provides some minimal standards of care like protection from extreme temperatures, adequate ventilation, solid floors, and other things that just seem like common sense and shouldn’t need to be set in law so that someone would provide them. The law also requires an annual permit, annual certification by a vet before female dogs can be bred, requires that only compatible dogs be housed together, and that medical treatment be provided without delay for those needing it.
The law is a HUGE step forward for our State that previously had essentially nothing. Albeit that some and I’d be among them, would argue that this law is still insufficient but it is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, the additional provision of this law that now allows for biannual inspection of commercial breeder WITHOUT having probable cause is possibly the biggest gain.
This provision allows access to breeders that was previously very difficult to obtain. We knew about the Whispering Oaks puppy mill for years. Having heard rumors of the conditions of this commercial breeding operation in our County without real evidence or a willing witness to testify to the facts, our hands were tied. This was beyond frustrating.
This new law will permit inspection just for inspection sake…sort of like the health inspectors at restaurants do every day. My argument to the law makers has been for these years that a dog should not have to die before we can inspect. Someone doesn’t have to die eating at McDonalds before the health inspector is allowed to see behind the counter.
Additionally the mandate that animals receive medical treatment was also essential and will be incredibly beneficial. While common sense may imply that a person whose profit is largely based on the condition of their product would have a great interest in the health of them. But in fact, the large breeders just view injury or a medical condition as unnecessary expenditure and as such some dogs are allowed to languish untreated.
No better example of this is a little dog that we found at the Whispering Oaks puppy mill that was the catalyst in eventually obtaining all of the dogs. This one little dog was unable to walk, dragging his hind legs around behind him in the tiny cage. We’d learn later that he had a spinal injury and would need surgery if he were to have a chance to ever walk again. No telling how long he’d been forced to live in the physical conditions in his condition without medical care.
While this little dog would never join the some 900 others that would be rescued and sent to our emergency shelter, he was in large part the means to the end of their suffering. In fact, it was the plight of this dog and the obvious neglect of his medical condition that could permit legal action against his breeder/owner. She knew it too and thus became much more compliant and agreed to turn over all the dogs to us.
With State law so vague about the required care of animals we may have had a difficult time proving in court that all her dogs were by law neglected. Even though the dogs lived in wooden and wire boxes the size of a large mailbox, in ammonia filled buildings and never stepped foot on the grass or rarely even touched, there was nothing unlawful in this.
Inhumane, unthinkable, untolerable…yes! Just not illegal. But the obvious disdain for the little lame dog would stand up in court and as such, all the dogs would become ours so the owner could avoid legal action.
We’d receive criticism for letting the breeder off the hook. But I will say this until my dying day, I had little faith that our legal system would put a 73 year old woman in jail. The process of doing so would have taken months and months. And during that time, all of the dogs would be held as evidence. That would mean we would have been responsible for almost 1000 dogs for months. Not only seemingly impossible and incredibly expensive, more importantly, the outcome would not likely have been that all of them would have become ours in the end. Those where abuse or neglect could be proven, yes. The others that just were suffering in conditions I wouldn’t put a hamster in, would have likely been returned to her. So maybe ignorantly, I was more interested in saving 1000 dogs than prosecuting one woman.
I will take responsibility for the decision on that hill that day and will never regret it. I do regret that we could not have freed them sooner. Especially the breeding dogs that surely had lived their entire lives in those dreadful conditions. I regret that we could not have gotten there months earlier, before the breeder had culled her supply when she killed over 200 of her unsellable older dogs. Can you imagine?
This new law will hopefully not only encourage such breeders to think twice about how they are treating and caring for their animals but also make it possible for us to help dogs living in such conditions in a much more timely manner.
Albeit the law may be just a baby step in the right direction, it’s a huge one in a world where no steps have been taken previously and I’m proud of those that made this baby step happen. I have hope for how we will now be able to better protect animals like the little crippled dog that was left to suffer in that cage unable to walk for who knows how long.
But for that little dog, who despite all of the horrors he must have faced, is nothing less than one of the happiest and most spoiled dogs on earth. Fostered from the time of his release from the vet’s, and during his surgery and recovery, by Jon Six, this little dog would recover to walk again. And for all those that know Jon, know too he could never part with him and would adopt him into a life filled with infinite compassion and love.
Mr. Happy, who was so named simply because of the joyous little dog’s congenial attitude every step of the way, now lives a life that must have seemed like a distant dream during the nightmare of his world at Whispering Oaks. A world that no dog should ever know. And hopefully because of this new law, no dog will. At least not for as long as I have anything to do with it!
Thank you to all that helped to create this new law. The law makers, the lobbyist, those that wrote and called encouraging its support and to the Governor who signed it into law. Bless you!
For those less familir with the Whispering Oaks Puppy Mill rescue you might read more about it at:
Categories: Animal Neglect and Abuse
You made the right decision for the right reasons by not pursuing prosecution, so don’t feel guilty. Thank you for saving the ones you did.