The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

State News

June 29, 2009

Missouri: State to prosecute unlicensed dog breeders

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — The state that has come under fire for being the “puppy mill” capital of the U.S. on Monday announced an aggressive campaign to investigate and prosecute unlicensed dog breeders.

Prosecution Bark Alert is the second phase of Missouri’s effort to stop unlicensed and substandard dog breeders from operating in the state.

Missouri, estimated to have more than 4,000 shoddy and inhumane high-volume dog-breeding businesses, has been identified as the nation’s capital for “puppy mills.”

The state is trying to shed that reputation, and Agriculture Director Jon Hagler has pledged to do more to crack down on bad breeders. Earlier this year, Hagler announced Operation Bark Alert, which allows people to report unlicensed breeders directly to him by e-mail.

On Monday, he said that effort had identified more than 200 unlicensed breeders now under investigation. They were reported by neighbors, puppy purchasers and others.

Joined by Attorney General Chris Koster, Hagler said the next phase would involve Missouri’s top law enforcement agency prosecuting breeders who refuse to obtain a license and meet state standards.

Since taking office in January, Hagler has taken steps to better enforce a 1992 state law for protecting animals raised by breeders. But he also has said his agency does not have the resources to conduct inspections every year as required by law. Monday’s message was more emphatic.

“Unlicensed breeders put licensed operators at a competitive disadvantage and animals at risk,” said Hagler, who has adopted a puppy mill rescue, an Australian shepherd named Jackson. “Missouri has led the nation in licensing professional breeders. We will lead the nation in cracking down on unlicensed breeders.”

Koster said he has assigned an attorney to work with agriculture inspectors to “corral” and prosecute substandard and unlicensed breeders, who will be shut down if they refuse to meet state standards.

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