Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Many thought it was over, but in fact the dog fight rages on at the state Capitol. A year after anti-puppy mill legislation was passed, a new bill is circulating that would stop the new rules from going into effect. That bill is taking the fight into the eleventh hour.
It's nick-named the "Puppy Mill Bill" because advocates hope it will force inhumane breeding operations known as puppy mills to close. It's actually called The Oklahoma Commercial Pet Breeders Act and, beyond closing down puppy mills, the law aims to reduce the pet overpopulation problem by regulating breeders.
Ruth Steinberger with Spay Oklahoma said the regulations breeders will have to abide by are minimal.
"If this little dog were a breeding dog, she could be housed in this cage for life," Steinberger said, pointing to a small poodle in a small cage. "This cage complies with the size requirements under these regulations."
The new law requires dogs to be kept in cages twice their length, plus six inches. They can be kept there for life.
Commercial dog breeder, Gary Phillips, wants the cage size requirement to be smaller. He said he fought for the cage size requirement to be just the dog plus six inches.
"Does my puppy look unhealthy?" Phillips asked, holding a Chihuahua. "He's been in a cage his whole life and he's a year and half old and he's a main stud dog for my Chihuahua kennel."
Phillips and other breeders have fought the regulations tooth and nail for years. Even now, less than a month from the new rules going to the governor for her signature, they're still fighting. Phillips said, after a year of negotiating new rules, he's okay with them the way they are. His primary cause for concern is the new board put in place to implement the rules. He said they have too much power and not enough oversight.
"It's not so much the rules that we don't care for. It's mostly the board and the way that it's not going to affect the people that are doing it wrong," Phillips said.
Phillips has a 200 dog breeding operation, selling dogs wholesale to brokers across the country. Because he sells to brokers, Phillips and breeders like him are already regulated by the feds at USDA. He feels he will be double-regulated while puppy millers will find loopholes and escape the rules.
"What they're doing now will not effect the substandard kennels, the people who are doing it improperly," Phillips said.
He said the Commercial Pet Breeders Board will have free reign to increase regulations and change the rules with no oversight, driving legitimate breeders out of Oklahoma.
"They know that's nonsense," said Ruth Steinberger. Steinberger and other advocates have worked with Phillips and other breeders to negotiate a happy medium in the rules. "Any change in rules, and I don't care if it's the medical board, the veterinary board, the dental, any change in rules has to go before the Legislature."
Steinberger said those arguments are nothing more than a last-ditch effort to derail progress.
"They invent a new explanation of why they don't want this every week. This is more creative. Now they've said that the legislative process doesn't work," Steinberger said.
But the breeders hope the process will work for them. Senator Charles Wyrick introduced a bill this session that would disapprove the rules. Wyrick refused to talk with the Oklahoma Impact Team on camera, but said in a phone conversation he doesn't like the new board or the ways the regulations would be implemented. But in that same phone conversation Senator Wyrick admitted he hasn't seen the rules since they were amended. He said he's very busy and hasn't had time to read them. Still, if his bill is approved, the rules would not go into effect and the debate would start all over again.
Wyrick's bill could be heard on the Senate floor as early as Monday, March 14. Otherwise, Governor Fallin has until March 24 to sign the proposed rules into law.