Cape Girardeau, MO – On a sunny afternoon in Cape Girardeau County, Larry Miller, flanked by two of his dogs, walked across his ranch. At 13, grey, shaggy Ruffles doesn't move as well as before. Milly is the seven-year-old energetic wiener dog who lights up at the opportunity to feed the horses. Miller also has a third dog, Bob.
Miller, a member of the Cattleman's Association, loves his dogs, and they reciprocate that affection. He has spent his life raising and caring for animals, such as the half-dozen quarter horses he currently has at his ranch, and his 40 head of cattle. As his wife says, he takes better care of his animals than he does of himself.
But Miller is firmly against Proposition B, the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act," which will be on Missouri's ballot this November.
"Initially it probably won't affect my business whatsoever," he said. "Actually what they are doing with this initiative is get their foot in the door with animal agriculture here in the state of Missouri. This is just one step for them, and they can move on to bigger and better things."
"They" is the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS. The national Humane Society is a major sponsor of Prop B, launching an ad and public affairs campaign in the state.
Prop B sets limits on the number of breeding females that a dog breeder can have at any given time and set standards of care for dogs in breeding facilities.
Miller and other opponents of Prop B are concerned that the language is ambiguous and could open the door for future restrictions on how livestock are treated.
The HSUS is simply meddling in the affairs of Missouri farmer, said University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Roger Eakins. Existing statutes are strong enough.
"This is not lax. It covers everything, from health, breeding, inspections, cleanliness, sanitation. So I don't know what they are calling lax," Eakins said. "Maybe it's the basis behind what HSUS is actually trying to do. They are on record as saying they want to do away with the pet industry and they want to do away with animal agriculture as it exists today."
Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the HSUS, called such an interpretation "crazy." Prop B, he said, is written only to affect dog breeders and would have no impact on animal agriculture operations. Passage is critical, Pacelle said, because the Show-Me State is the center of the puppy mill universe.
"Three thousand mills out of 10,000 total, producing perhaps 30 to 40 percent of all dogs moved in the pet trade," Pacelle said. "The laws are weak in Missouri and the industry has grown. Prop B is an attempt to establish more significant standards to have responsible breeding return to Missouri,"
Prop B supporters like Pacelle say that the law would eliminate the substandard conditions in Missouri breeding facilities. Breeders would have to provide veterinary care for sick animals. Dogs could no longer be housed in stacked cages, and would be given regular exercise, food, and water, according to Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation.
"These dogs are bred on their first heat. They are bred on every heat thereafter. They are just a wreck. After five or six years of age, many of them cannot produce pups anymore and they are taken out and shot. That's their only reward after a lifetime of breeding," he said.
And what about the argument that the language is too vague?
"I really can't see it as vague at all, honestly," said Southeast Missouri State University political science professor Jeremy Walling. "When I read it, it seems to clearly be about puppy mills and the conditions in puppy mills and how to better treat animals that are in these puppy mills. It's hard for me to see for me to see as I read this anything that seems vague to me. It seems to be very specifically written and easy to understand, in fact."
Passage of Proposition B could lead animal rights groups to be more assertive in Missouri, Walling said. But it won't open the floodgates for those organizations to run amok throughout the state.
"I think you could make that argument about any law that gets passed, that this is just the first step to whatever the next thing is," he said. "I don't see it in this. This seems to be pretty clearly and specifically written to address the puppy mill situation."
Missourians will vote on Prop B on November 2. A yes vote enacts the stronger regulations - a no vote leaves current law untouched.