They Shoot Horses Don’t They
An interesting question came up during this month’s meeting of the Tulare County Animal Services (TCAS) Advisory Committee while updating its ordinance.
The question was, are there any restrictions on how a commercial breeding kennel can put down dogs that no longer produce puppies?
The TCAS advisory members are all animal lovers and were a bit aghast at the question. Most assumed that kennel owners were legally obligated to use the services of a vet to euthanize sick dogs and that healthy dogs were adopted out or given to rescues.
But that was really a cross between naiveté and wishful thinking.
It’s not that there is a law in California that says a kennel owner can shoot their dogs. It’s just that no law is on the books saying they can’t.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare Act, unwanted animals that are part of a commercial enterprise may be killed by the owner without the aid of a vet.
It is, in fact, illegal to shoot a pet. But dogs used exclusively for commercial purposes are not pets, they are a commodity.
In Pennsylvania two commercial breeders shot 80 dogs at their Berks County kennels because they no longer wanted to take care of them. Chris Ryder, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokesman, was quoted as saying, “They felt the easiest and least expensive way to do so was to shoot them.”
Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff said, “The shooting of the dogs is not a crime and kennel owners may continue to kill their dogs for any reason as they see fit, even if it is simply to save money.”
During my investigation of Ron Abbott’s Top Dog Kennel two people contacted me saying they were certain that he shoots dogs that are no longer producing or when puppies age -out and start counting against the maximum 45 dog limit.
With three litters of puppies almost always for sale, Mr. Abbott has consistently been unable to stay under Tulare County Animal Ordinance’s limit.
An independent dog lover committed to rescues said, “We have heard this over and over in the last 5 years from several people, and surrounding area who have often heard shooting. If he humanely euthanizes – where are the records? It should be with his ‘vet.’ I bet your bottom dollar he is not going to spend a buck on the juice to kill them when he can just hammer a bullet in their head and burn them.”
Mr. Abbott doesn’t run a charity. So it shouldn’t be shocking that he is watching his bottom line and may not want to incur the cost of getting of a vet or paying rescue fees. And his business is super lucrative. A typical dame will bring in $10,000 a year. If out of 45 dogs, 30 of them are dames, Mr. Abbott is making $300,000 a year.
But it comes at a cost.
Dames who have lived their entire life in a kennel develop long-term fears, compulsive behaviors such as circling and pacing, learning deficits, and are often unable to cope fully with a normal life. Physically, the dames are suffering from tumors, infections, ulcers, hernias, scabs, and rotted teeth.
One of Abbott’s many customers told me about an older dog she picked up from his farm. “She will be spayed Friday and have tumors removed and biopsied… It’s going to take a long time rehabilitating this dog in order for her to trust and understand. It took me over an hour to finally get her though the back door into the house. Challenging is an understatement. Absolutely everything is overwhelming to her. Windows, mirrors, normal house noises, moving too quickly, the sound of a TV, water running, etc.”
“A quiet environment is what she needs for a while and a lot of patience, and to understand that humans can actually be good, too,” she said.
Mr. Abbott actually sells the old dogs, so is not in the mindset of having to pay to get rid of them.
Mr. Abbott told a customer who wanted an older dog that he had a 8-10 year-old yellow lab available for 100$ that had puppies three months ago, and another 8 – 10 year-old black lab that currently had puppies and would be available in about a month. He also had a six-year -old stud for $500.
Patrick Hamblin, Director of TCAS, could not definitively answer if it was legal for kennel owners to shoot healthy dogs in Tulare County. He said that if TCAS had hard evidence that a shooting had occurred, it would refer the case to the Tulare County District Attorney to see if any laws had been broken.
These issues are exactly why Mr. Hamblin and TCAS are rewriting the ordinances. He said that he and his assistant have thought about the problem of euthanizing healthy dogs for a long time and they want the public’s help in coming up with structuring the correct language to put in the new ordinance.
TCAS’ goal is to improve the lives of female dogs stuck in kennels and ensure a live outcome for all aged-out breeding dogs. TCAS has been doing community outreach in their effort to update their ordinances and has asked the public to give their suggestions by sending TCAS emails to [email protected].
“Having the feedback come from the public is better,” said Mr. Hamblin. He also wanted to stress that TCAS does consider kennel dogs pets even if they are used for commercial purposes.
The draft ordinance already has rules that would curtail the killing of healthy dogs. By next year, all kennel dogs will have to be microchipped and have their own log. So when the county does a welfare check, dogs can’t just mysteriously disappear. There has to be a complete record on each dog that documents check-ups, vaccinations and every time they have a litter.
And the record needs to match the chip. So no switcheroos as Mr. Abbott has been accused.
Another change that will limit the number of dogs being killed is the new maximum limit of 25.
Mr. Hamblin said he has been planning ahead to when kennels need to conform to the new lower limits. He has been working with rescues in Northern California that have more resources on hand and vets working on site. Some of these organizations have offered to take Tulare County surplus dogs at no cost to the kennel, which is necessary in order to get a live outcome for these old dogs.
The biggest obstacle is that TCAS is trying to write an animal welfare ordinance for a for- profit business that uses animals.
While the goal of the Animal Advisory Committee is to ensure the health of the dogs, the goal of the commercial breeder is to make money.
Those two goals aren’t compatible.
The look on some of the faces of the advisory board members while one rescue operator described the condition of overbred dames was, “Why are these commercial breeding kennels even legal.”
If we have to make a law telling kennel owners they can’t kill their dogs, and those dogs that do make it out alive are in horrible condition, we should all be asking ourselves the same question.