What is Maryland's puppy mill law? State officials fail to enforce animal protection law
Animal rights activists have been left fuming after a breaking investigation found that Maryland isn't enforcing its puppy mill laws. The laws, signed to much fanfare by Governor Larry Hogan in 2018, are being violated by at least three stores in the state.
Enforcement of the law is lax at best, with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office launching an investigation months ago. However, despite clear evidence to the contrary, the three stores identified are still open for business. The news hasn't gone down well with animal activists, who have slammed the state.
The shocking violation was first reported by Fox 5 DC, who found that consumers weren't aware of the law. That begs the question, what exactly is a puppy mill law? Here's the answer, as well as a look at what is happening in Maryland.
What are puppy mill laws?
According to The Human Society (HSUS), puppy mills are "inhumane, commercial dog breeding facilities" where "the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits." To limit this kind of animal abuse, several states have passed puppy mill laws regulating commercial dog breeding. Federally, it is regulated through the 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which inspects and licenses certain large-scale breeders. Many states have their own laws, like Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware and Louisiana.
While the laws vary state-to-state, they all regulate commercial breeding requiring breeders to pay licensing fees and/or require regular inspections, but not all states do. Some just require that breeders treat the dogs 'humanely', with little definition of what constitutes "neglect" or "cruelty". Other loopholes also exist, meaning breeders often get away without consequences. HSUS obtained inspection records and found that "violators are rarely fined and their licenses are rarely suspended. Facilities with long histories of repeated violations for basic care conditions are often allowed to renew their licenses again and again."
Animal activist groups have repeatedly attempted to increase enforcement, but it isn't an easy task. The Puppy Mill Project found that the US Department of Agriculture, responsible for enforcing the AWA is grossly overburdened. The department reportedly has just 110 inspectors to regulate around 8,782 facilities (in 2010). There appears to be a similar issue at the state level, as seen in the case of Maryland.
Enforcement woes in Maryland
Under Maryland's laws, pet stores can sell dogs and cats only from animal welfare groups, animal control units, or licensed breeders. Stores also had to provide full details about the animals there were selling, including from where they were obtained. The bill was signed by Gov. Hogan, amidst a sea of animals and activists in 2018. "There are about seven pet stores in Maryland that might be affected, but there are thousands of puppies," he said at the time, brushing away concerns that businesses would be impacted.
The law went into full effect in February 2020 and has since had very few consequences. In October that year, Just Puppies in Rockville had its license voided for violating the law. A month prior, Fox 5 DC found that several stores were in violation of the law, and had no plans to stop. Two years later, that seems to be the case. The latest investigation by Fox found at least three stores in violation of the law.
Along with Just Puppies in Rockville, the Just Puppies in Towson and Charm City Puppies in Columbia were all named by Fox as violating the law. According to them, attorneys for the store have not responded to request for comments for a month. It also appears as if the AG's office isn't too keen on the investigation. "Court documents show the state has attempted to subpoena records, but no action has been taken to shut down the shops," Fox reported.
They also talked to two women who purchased a puppy from the Columbia store, and found that they were unaware of the law. "I have been very disappointed that although the Attorney General has stated (the stores) are in violation of Maryland state law, the Attorney General has not stopped them," Maryland State Senator Ben Kramer said. "It sends a message to every other business owner that the law means nothing," John Goodwin of the HSUS said.