Federal judge strikes down challenge to Texas' new 'puppy mill' law

Posted Friday, Feb. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A federal district judge in Austin has denied a motion by Central Texas commercial dog breeders to block the state's new law requiring certain breeders to obtain licenses.

U.S. District Judge James R. Nowlin signed the order Thursday after a hearing on a lawsuit filed in October by the three breeders and the Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, which represents 305 American Kennel Club groups in Texas.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Texas Humane Legislation Network filed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the law, which was defended by the Texas attorney general's office.

The law, which took effect Sept. 1 after the Legislature passed House Bill 1451 in 2011, instructs the Department of Licensing and Regulation to inspect and license breeders who keep 11 or more breeding female dogs or cats and who sell or offer 20 or more puppies or kittens a year.

The legislation, authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, was widely known as the "puppy mill" bill, although it was aimed just as much at cruelty by cat breeders.

When lawmakers passed the bill in 2011, critics protested that it would put unreasonable burdens on good breeders while doing nothing to stop bad ones. For weeks, fierce debate raged between breeders and animal-rights groups.

"This law punishes the people it should be promoting," Martine Huslig with the Statewide Pet Education, Assistance & Rescue Programs said at the time.

Animal-rights groups like the ASPCA, however, said the bill would make it easier for state and local officials to shut down inhumane breeders and allow licensed breeders to promote themselves as meeting state standards.

As of Friday, the state had received 159 applications and granted 148 licenses, said Susan Stanford, department spokeswoman.

The plaintiffs argued in the lawsuit that the law is unconstitutional for several reasons, but Nowlin found that they met none of the four burdens necessary to receive relief.

The Humane Society and the Humane Legislation Network said in a news release that they are thrilled with the outcome.

"The plaintiffs and their cohorts don't want there to be any standards for the responsible care of dogs in commercial breeding facilities," said Katie Jarl, state director for the Humane Society, "and that's just not acceptable to Texas pet owners who want to protect dogs from cruelty and abuse."

Cile Holloway, president of the legislation network, said the new law, known as the Dog or Cat Breeders Act, "establishes very basic standards for breeders in Texas -- humane housing, annual veterinary care and daily exercise, to name a few."

"These standards have been in the federal Animal Welfare Act for years, so they should be nothing new to most breeders," Holloway said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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