State Representative Bruce Ayers grew up in Quincy with a black Labrador named Smokey. A dog lover, Ayers was appalled, along with the rest of us, over “Puppy Doe,” the female pit bull dumped in bushes near a playground in Quincy last summer. Puppy Doe had been starved, stabbed, beaten, and left for dead.
Because of the severity of her injuries, the dog was euthanized.
The case garnered worldwide attention and led to vigils and makeshift memorials, petitions, and online campaigns, and it also led Ayers to file a bill that just last week was reported favorably out of the Joint Judiciary Committee and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee.
House Bill 4244, an Act Relative to the Penalty for Killing, Maiming or Poisoning of Animals, would raise the penalties, fines, and imprisonment for those who abuse animals. It would also create a task force to examine animal abuse laws in the state.
The bill seeks to increase the fines from a maximum of $2,500 to $5,000, and prison sentences from a maximum of five years to seven years. It requires veterinarians to report acts of animal cruelty, and if they fail to do so, they would be reported to the Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine.
Finally, it would create a task force to study animal abuse laws and issues, including ways to provide educational materials to children about such abuse, and look into participating in a national abuse registry.
Ayers is asking that citizens who support the bill e-mail him at email@example.com to see how they can help, and to get updates.
For the next legislative session, he has also begun work on drafting a bill that would ban the sale of puppy-mill animals in Massachusetts pet shops. Ayers has been working with the Companion Animal Protection Society, or CAPS, a national nonprofit based in Cohasset and founded by Deborah Howard, who lives in Hull.
For more than 20 years, the nonprofit has used undercover investigators to expose the abuses of a number of pet stores and the puppy mills where they get their pups, which has resulted in the closing of several of them.
Working with Ayers’s office, Howard is collecting background information on where certain pet shops are getting their dogs and cats, says Kerry Morris, legislative director for Ayers. Some 48 cities and towns across the country have banned the retail sale of puppies and kittens from commercial breeding facilities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago.
“People who enter a pet store these days are purchasing sick puppies and kittens, due to the breeding, living quarters, and transporting procedures of these animals from the mills to the pet stores,” Ayers says, citing their “unhealthy and appalling conditions.”
Because of high veterinarian bills, some of the pets end up abandoned at shelters “and this is a vicious cycle that needs to be fixed,” he says. He wants to require pet stores to get dogs and cats from shelters and other animal rescues.
My family has gotten two of our dogs from rescues — the third, a cocker spaniel, we got from a breeder. He died young, from kidney problems. Tucker lived a healthy, long life, and Gumbo — he prefers “Bo” — is going strong at age 7 or so. (We were told that he was between 4 and 5 when we got him.)
Linda Murphy of Scituate and Kelly Delsignore of Dedham recently joined forces to form the Massachusetts Coalition to End Puppy Mills, which stages protests at pet stores in the area. According to the documentary film “Madonna of the Mills,” 99 percent of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, which the Humane Society describes as commercial breeding facilities that house dogs in cramped, dirty conditions and overbreed them.
“The parents of these puppies live in relentless confinement, almost total neglect, and the breeder will destroy or discard them when they determine it is no longer profitable to feed them,” Murphy says. “They live in a small wire cage with no bedding or toys, and they are bred at every heat cycle to produce the maximum number of puppies to sell to pet stores.”
Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, a nonprofit animal welfare group based in Portland, Ore., says breeders shouldn’t all be painted with the same broad brush.
“The industry has improved animal care and well-being standards dramatically over the last 20 years, with the result that there are now many excellent commercial kennels for pet stores to work with,” says Strand. There are substandard breeders that should be closed, but also some substandard animal rescue groups, she says.
The US Department of Agriculture does inspect the breeders it licenses. But the Mass. Coalition to End Puppy Mills contends the USDA’s standards are minimal and the agency is a toothless tiger when it comes to puppy mills. “They allow the dogs to be treated in a way that none of us would consider humane,” Murphy says, pointing to a recent US inspector general report that found the USDA rarely closes a facility regardless of the conditions.
Between 5 million and 7 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters every year, and CAPS and the coalition and other animal rights groups spread the word on rescue animals as devoted pets. “There are breed rescues for every kind of dog you can think of,” says Murphy, who also recommends local animal shelters. “We tell people your perfect dog is out there waiting for you to find him.”
“Woof,” agrees Gumbo, who rescued us two years ago.