Puppy mill moves forward

Saturday, April 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Last Thursday, a panel of Democrats and Republicans appeared closer to agreeing on legislation to improve the nearly nonexistent regulations on large-scale dog breeders in the state.

House Bill 1468 (being called the Puppy Mill Bill) strengthens the state's animal-cruelty statute and gives authorities the ability to shut down abusive puppy mills.

Current state law requires only that dogs receive food and water, leaving prosecutors unable to bring charges against breeders despite evidence of abuse, torture and killing of dogs.

While there are no inspections or dog caps in the revised bill, the legislation would require commercial dog breeders to register with the state for the first time, allowing the attorney general's office to identify operators and ensure they pay taxes.

Versions of the bill have cleared both the House and Senate, and now the two sides are attempting to hash out their differences.

The Senate bill would require breeders to comply with Department of Agriculture regulations. It also broadens the state's definition of animal cruelty and gives local prosecutors and the attorney general better tools to use to prosecute offenders.

The bill increases the penalty for animal cruelty to a Class A Misdemeanor for a first offense and to a felony for a repeat offense.

Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, the bill's architect, told the committee that she'd make major concessions to reach a compromise that could pass both chambers.

Lawson's new proposal adds to the Senate bill requirements that breeders allow their dogs to exercise outside their cages at least once a day. It also requires that dogs have enough room for "reasonable movement" in their cages.

Another Bill now in the Senate would make it a Class C felony to kill someone's pet. Indiana's animal cruelty laws don't spell out penalties for someone who kills a domestic animal.

Senate Bill 222 was written after two men allegedly shot a 5-year-old draft horse named Ben in the head. Legislators say the men were out poaching deer. Prosecutors say the men put a 12-gauge shotgun between Ben's eyes saying they wanted the horse to kiss the gun before he died. The two men were charged with criminal recklessness because prosecutors could not find an animal cruelty statute that deals with killing someone's pet.

If passed, Senate Bill 222 would mean a penalty of two to eight years for anyone convicted of killing someone's animal. Two Bills in the Senate, Senate Bill 222 and 238, and two in the House, HB 1468 and HB 1558, focus on animal rights.

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