New commercial pet breeder regulations considered

Members of the Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 17 on three bills that would change the Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Act.

LB360, introduced by Wahoo Sen. Jerry Johnson, would list the following as examples of “significant threat” to the health or safety of dogs or cats:
• not providing shelter or protection from extreme weather;
• refusing to seek treatment for acute injuries involving potentially life-threatening, hemorrhaging or medical emergencies;
• not providing food or water resulting in starvation or severe dehydration;
• egregious abuse resulting in trauma from beating, torturing, mutilating or burning; or
• failing to maintain sanitation standards that result in animals walking, lying or standing in feces.

“This currently undefined term is utilized in existing [statute] as a standard authorizing interventions by the Department of Agriculture of seizure and referral to law enforcement when inspectors observe inhumane conditions,” Johnson said. “[LB360] would add in the new clarification so new issues can be addressed.”

The bill also would establish an annual fee beyond the initial license fee, on a graduated schedule starting at $150 for facilities with up to 10 dogs or cats and up to $2,000 for facilities housing 500 or more animals.

Judy Varner, president and CEO of the Nebraska Humane Society, spoke in favor of the bill.

“In a perfect world, [the definition] might be stronger, but it is a very important step to move forward for the safety of animals in breeding situations,” she said.

Pauline Balta, a volunteer for Hearts United for Animals, opposed the bill, saying that it would allow substandard conditions to continue.

“As a 13-year volunteer, I have witnessed dogs arriving covered in excrement, urine or suffering from parasites,” she said. “[This bill] sets a ridiculously low standard where ongoing suffering will be allowed to continue with no action taken.”

The committee considered two additional proposals to increase fees levied on commercial breeders.

Currently, facilities with 11 or more dogs or cats must pay an annual license fee according to a graduated fee schedule, which levies an additional $50 on each increment of 50 breeding dogs or cats that is greater than 10. LB389, introduced by Heartwell Sen. John Kuehn, would instead institute an annual fee of $150 plus an additional $10 for each animal numbering more than 11.

The bill also would increase the initial license fee for all breeders from $125 to $150. A re-inspection fee of $150 would be established, plus mileage charges necessary to complete the re-inspection. The changes are estimated to increase state revenue by $74,000.

Kuehn said that the cost of increased oversight should be borne by the breeders that violate the law.

“The front line in addressing and rectifying animal welfare problems is identifying the facilities not in compliance with state standards,” he said. “The financial resources of this program continue to be strained while the demand for oversight continues to increase.”

Jason Paine, a Hearts United for Animals volunteer, supported the bill, saying that breeders should pay a larger share to fund the oversight program.

“[LB389] is a good start to solving the problem [of bad breeders],” Paine said. “The fee increase should cause minimal hardship to those making money off of selling the offspring of [breeder dogs].”

Clem Disterhaupt, president of the Nebraska Professional Pet Breeders Association, opposed the bill. He said it would leave reputable breeders with less money for associated costs, including veterinary care.

“Under the current fee structure, if you own 50 dogs you pay $200,” he said. “But under this bill, it would be $150 plus $10 for each dog [above 11]. That’s more than triple what I pay now.”

Johnson also introduced LB359, which would increase the local animal license fee from $1 to $1.25 and dedicate $1.22 from each fee to the state’s Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Program. Johnson said the increase would help to continue funding the oversight of commercial breeders in the state.

“This bill would help keep the fund from going into the red and keep us from having to increase the fees again later on,” he said.

Varner testified in support of the bill, saying that the Nebraska Humane Society is happy to dedicate more of its revenue to increased oversight.

“We sell approximately 150,000 licenses in Omaha. This increase would bring in anywhere between $35,000 and $45,000 in Omaha alone,” she said. “We’ve stopped collecting the 3 percent processing fee that we’re entitled to because we want the money going to this program.”

No one testified in opposition to LB359 and the committee took no immediate action on any of the bills.

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