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Prop B Vote Goes to the Dogs

The recent midterm election was a nail biter for me, and not because the Republicans took over the House, or that the hotly contested race for the Congressional seat in Missouri’s third district was still up in the air when I woke up the next morning, or that California rejected the legalization of marijuana. More than anything else, I answered my civic duty on behalf of all dogs, and I’m not referring to the politicians themselves.

On November 2, just before midnight, animal lovers everywhere collectively breathed a sigh of relief as nearly one million Missourians went to the polls and approved the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which appeared on the ballot as “Proposition B.” You would think this statewide ballot initiative to vastly improve the lives of dogs in Missouri’s commercial breeding operations was a no-brainer, but the race was too close for comfort. In fact, Prop B passed 52 percent to 48 percent with almost the entire state outside major metro areas voting against it. The puppy-mill proposition did poorly in rural Missouri counties, where opponents feared it could be the start of excessive regulation of all forms of animal agriculture, including cows, pigs, chickens and horses.

Fortunately, the majority of voters ignored such propaganda and the $1.6 million that the proponents sunk into the campaign paid off because the passage of Prop B has far-reaching implications around the country. Animal advocates have long called Missouri the “puppy mill” capital of the country because the state has more dog breeders than any other state and a history of non-enforced regulation.

The statistics are staggering. Missouri supplies more than 40 percent of all dogs sold in pet stores nationwide and is home to more than 3,000 puppy mills where approximately 200,000 breeding dogs produce up to a million puppies a year—as many as the next three largest dog-breeding states (Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa) combined. Dogs are not breeding machines and should not be treated like a cash crop. The new state law, which goes into effect in a year, limits the number of breeding dogs to 50 per facility and requires anyone who has more than 10 breeding dogs to meet certain standards for housing, food, and veterinary care. Clean water, regular exercise, and adequate rest for female dogs between litters are now mandatory. Furthermore, the amendment creates a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any of these violations. Unfortunately, many suspected breeders will continue to operate underground, but if this new law can save one more feces-matted dog from living her whole life in a dark, cramped, wire cage it’s worth it.

“We are grateful to the citizens of Missouri for voting to crack down on puppy mill abuses and to establish common-sense standards for the care of dogs,” said Barbara Schmitz, campaign director for Missourians for the Protection of Dogs/YES! on Prop B. “Finally these animals will have relief from being crammed into small and filthy cages, without veterinary care, exercise, or human affection. If we can do it here in the nation’s largest puppy mill state, we are more likely to carry the day with reforms enacted in other states, where this cruel industry is not nearly as strong and entrenched.”

From a Jewish perspective, this monumental victory represents our sacred obligation to vote for legislative change and take responsibility for all of God’s creatures. While policy reform is most often generated through state legislatures, Prop B was a citizen-supported initiative. Its advancement, from inception through passage, reflects the power that we, as concerned Jews, have to shape our culture and society.

“Our Jewish tradition, like most religious faiths, clearly prohibits acts of cruelty to animals; the rabbis of the Talmud called it ‘tzaar baalei chayim.’ Our Jewish tradition has never faltered in reminding us as human beings to do what we can to treat each living thing with dignity and respect. I have no doubt that our Jewish values would clearly support the passage of Proposition B. I am grateful that the citizens of our state have taken this small but significant step towards caring more for all living things,” said Rabbi James Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. She currently is writing a book on her apricot toy poodle Luci. Visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.