ARDMORE — Animal rights groups are calling for regulations of dog and cat breeders in Oklahoma after about 90 dogs were found abandoned in far southern Oklahoma earlier this week. The dogs, which were found near Marietta on Monday morning, are believed to have been abandoned by a dog breeder. "It's horrific,” said Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma director for the Humane Society of the United States. "And if the animals were indeed abandoned by someone running a puppy mill, it's really another tragic symptom of these mass-breeding establishments that have little or no regard for the animals they are breeding.” An Ardmore group called Southern Oklahoma Animal Resources took custody of most of the dogs. Scott Sutherland, the group's director, said new homes have been found for all but three of them. The dogs, which were of various breeds, were found on a nearby ranch, he said. A rancher gathered them up in a horse trailer and took them to an animal hospital in Ardmore, Sutherland said. Many of the dogs are pregnant and most are emaciated and ratty, Sutherland said. The dog owner or owners have not been identified, and it is uncertain where they came from. The Love County sheriff's office did not return repeated calls requesting comment. Sixty-five of the dogs found this week were taken up by Southern Oklahoma Animal Resources, and 25 were sent to an animal shelter in Texas, Sutherland said. Sutherland said the dogs appeared frightened but would do well in new homes. One was unable to bark, and Sutherland thinks a rod may have been shoved down the dog's throat to sever its larynx, likely because an owner became annoyed with the dog's barking, he said.
Is breeder regulation the answer?The situation has animal rights groups saying "puppy mills” in the state are on the rise and need regulation. Oklahoma is one of several states that does not require inspections or set standards for dog- and cat-breeding operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates commercial breeders that sell animals to third parties, but does not regulate animal breeders that sell directly to the public. In the last legislative session, Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, proposed legislation to inspect breeders that sell more than 25 puppies per year. The law would have created minimum standards for living conditions, she said. The bill did not pass out of a legislative committee, but Denney says she plans to propose a similar bill in the next session, if she is re-elected. Some groups say the legislation was misguided. Denise Travis, president of the Oklahoma Animal Interest Alliance, a group of breeders and animal welfare proponents, said the rules would only have affected breeders that are already licensed by the USDA, leaving the problem breeders untouched.
Enforcement of laws criticizedWhat's lacking, Travis said, is enforcement of existing laws. Oklahoma has statutes in place that outlaw animal cruelty and animal abandonment. Those laws apply to all dog breeders, including puppy mill owners, but animal rights activists say they're rarely enforced. Christy Counts, president of the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, said local law enforcement lacks funding to address animal cruelty issues. They also would have to get a warrant to search a puppy mill, since customers often buy dogs over the Internet or in store parking lots, instead of at the breeder's home or business. Those factors make it even more difficult to pin down violators, she said, adding that she supports legislation to require inspections for all dog breeders.
Dog adoptions urgedPatti Strand, chairman of the National Animal Interest Alliance, said state regulations are often knee-jerk reactions to animal cruelty incidents that get media attention. Many breeders are reputable, and consumers must equip themselves to make smart decisions about the dogs they buy, she said. Counts said her group is starting an awareness campaign to teach people that "if they choose to purchase puppies as opposed to adopting an animal then they are part of the problem” with inhumane dog breeders. She hopes the assumed dog abandonment case in southern Oklahoma will bring attention to what she calls a "huge statewide problem” and a "black eye” for Oklahoma. Sutherland echoed that sentiment, saying the incident is "shining a light on a dark corner of the animal world.”
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How to avoid puppy millsAnimal rights groups say consumers are at least partly to blame for the fact that some dogs and cats are raised in inhumane conditions. Here are their tips for consumers that don't want to support puppy mills: •Adopt from a shelter instead of buying a pet. •Get to know your breeder. •Ask for references from a veterinarian or reputable animal group. •Ask to see your dog or cat's parents. •Ask about the breed of dog. Breeders should be knowledgeable. •Make sure the animals don't appear to fear the breeder. •Inspect the living conditions of the animals.
How to helpAnimal welfare groups plan to spay and neuter the 65 dogs in Oklahoma before letting them be adopted. They estimate the procedures will cost a total of $4,000, and are accepting donations for those efforts. Inquiries by phone can be made to Scott Sutherland at (580) 795-5525. Donations can be mailed to Southern Oklahoma Animal Resources: Route 4, Box 510, Madill, OK 73446.