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Eliminating 'puppy mills' among legislation pending during last week of West Virginia Legislature

April 06, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Legislation aimed at eliminating “puppy mills” and providing minimum standards for horse-boarding facilities still are alive in the West Virginia Legislature after passing the Senate, the bills’ lead sponsor said.

“We’ve heard enough horror stories of hundreds of dogs packed into very confined spaces and the mistreatment of horses at boarding facilities. It’s time to do something decisive, and these bills are a critical step forward.” state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said in a news release about the legislation’s intent.

Both Senate Bill 437 and Senate Bill 490 were pending Friday in the House Judiciary Committee with one week remaining in the Legislature’s 60-day regular session. The session ends Saturday at midnight.

Senate Bill 437 would prohibit puppy mills by requiring a business license and annual permits for commercial dog breeders, limiting the number of dogs that can be kept for breeding and setting humane and sanitary conditions that must be maintained, Unger said.

“In essence, what we’re trying to do is make sure we protect what we have,” Unger said of the bill. “Other states are cracking down on the puppy mills that are operating illegally. We want to make sure we strengthen our laws so that they’re not just finding this as a haven for that type of operation. That’s why this bill is critical. We need to step up and provide stronger laws to protect our animals as well.”

Senate Bill 490 outlines minimum care requirements for equine-boarding facilities be established by a “livestock care” board and requires the minimum terms and conditions for a written contract between the equine owner or responsible party and the boarding facility.

The bill, which state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, joined Unger in sponsoring, also authorizes the commissioner of agriculture or the livestock care board to propose legislative rules for the purpose of implementing and monitoring those standards.

The Equine Facilities and Care Act, if passed, would join the Equine Rescue Facilities Act, which was adopted last year by lawmakers. That bill also was sponsored by Unger.

Repeated attempts in prior years by lawmakers to pass commercial dog-breeding regulations have failed, according to the Legislature’s reference and information website. 

Last year’s version of the legislation to create commercial dog-breeding regulations died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Berkeley County authorities have made a number of large-scale seizures of dogs and horses in the last several years due to allegations of animal cruelty. They include:

• November 2012 — Rocky Del Trolio of Falling Waters, W.Va., who was accused of mistreating more than 130 dogs and several cats seized in June 2012, pleaded guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.

• April 2011 — Leonard Woods Jr. pleaded guilty to 20 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and later was ordered to pay more than $2,800 in restitution for the care of more than 90 dogs seized from his breeding business in Martinsburg in August 2010.

• October 2010 — Mary O’Brien pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty in connection with the condition of more than 50 horses and two cows that were found at her equine rescue operation in September 2010. O’Brien was ordered to pay more than $11,000 in restitution and fined $1,000.  

• December 2007 — Mara Spade pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty in connection with the alleged mistreatment of more than 140 dogs that were seized from a canine rescue in 2006. 

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