Missouri Dept. of Agriculture Imposes Crippling Tax on Cash-Strapped Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups

The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Best Friends Animal Society offered mixed reviews of the new animal care standards for large-scale commercial puppy mills recently finalized by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, noting that some of the standards have been strengthened while others have been significantly weakened during the agency’s rulemaking process. The groups also renewed their call on the Department to reduce or waive a new tax imposed on nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups and to not lump these charitable groups together with large-scale commercial breeding operations.

Most troublesome, the final rules in the new animal care standards impose a new tax and per-animal fee on nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups for every animal adopted—up to $2,500 per year—treating these groups like commercial business enterprises.  These charitable groups do not profit from selling dogs, but instead provide a service to the state, often handling hundreds of dogs seized from illegal puppy mills and cleaning up the messes that commercial breeders have made. The animal welfare groups called on the Department to allow a hardship waiver for the new tax and to reduce the license fee for shelters and rescues.

“The Department of Agriculture should immediately kill this misguided and punitive tax on charitable animal shelters and rescue groups,” said Barbara Schmitz, Missouri state director for The HSUS. “These organizations are performing a service for all Missouri citizens, and shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as commercial puppy mills, which unlike the shelters, are adding to the problem and the cost of government by churning out puppies and flooding the marketplace.”

 “The new animal care standards are strong in some areas but weak in others, and we’re going to have to see what impact they have on dog welfare and whether they help to turn around Missouri’s reputation as the puppy mill capital of America,” said Cori Menkin, senior director of the puppy mills campaign at the ASPCA.

 The groups noted that the following animal care standards were strengthened in response to public comments on the draft rules, and thanked the Department for addressing these concerns:

  • Veterinary Exam: The draft rules provided no definition of “veterinary examination,” but the final rules made clear that each individual dog must receive a hands-on veterinary examination annually.
  • Serious Illness or Injury:  The draft rules provided no definition for “serious illness or injury” which will prompt a requirement that treatment must be provided by a licensed veterinarian, but the final rules included more information about what a serious illness or injury would include, even though breeders are still being asked to make judgments best left to veterinarians.
  • Rest Between Breeding Cycles: The draft rules were vague on whether a veterinarian’s recommendation on breeding cycles was per dog or per facility, but the final rules clarify that each dog must receive an individual breeding recommendation from a veterinarian.
  • Extreme Weather: Protecting dogs from extreme weather was originally undefined, but the final rules set specific parameters at above 85 degrees or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or during a severe weather alert.

The groups expressed disappointment, however, that several major flaws in the draft rules remain unaddressed, and several animal care standards were further weakened through the process, such as:

  • Flooring: The draft rules prohibited several types of flooring that are harmful to dogs’ feet, but the final rules were weakened by allowing galvanized metal and thinner slatted flooring.
  • Space: The draft rules required that dogs be housed in groups of four or fewer, but the final rules allow the space to be nearly twice as crowded, with dogs housed in groups of eight or fewer until 2016, and then six or fewer thereafter.
  • Outdoor Access: The draft rules required constant and unfettered access to the outdoors, with exemptions for veterinary care and whelping, but the final rules add a number of loopholes and exemptions for extreme weather, conflicts with municipal zoning ordinances, and keeping dogs inside from dusk to dawn due to nocturnal predators.
  • Exercise: The final rules include no minimum size requirement for an outdoor exercise yard, and do not require that the exercise yard be on a solid surface.

While the groups are waiting to see whether the new rules will improve conditions for dogs in Missouri’s puppy mills, they are currently supporting the Your Vote Counts Act, which would require a supermajority vote in the House and Senate, or a subsequent vote of the people, in order to repeal or amend any voter-approved initiative. Proposition B, the ballot initiative originally passed that provided much stronger protections for dogs than the current compromise legislation, was overturned by the legislature by a simple majority, undermining the will of Missouri citizens.

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