Florida's proposed breeder police legislation (warrantless searches and all)
I had another post planned for today, but since receiving word of Florida’s new plan to play de-facto breeder police I couldn’t help but change my lineup.
First the good news: Florida’s backed off its HB 451, the bill that would mandate spay and neuter of most pets over four months throughout the whole state.
Now the bad news: Instead, my great state has offered up twin bills, SB 2002 and HB 1249, to promote healthy dog breeding practices through warrantless home searches and a maze of often dubiously helpful restrictions for anyone housing ten or more dogs.
Here’s a sampling of the provisions, good and bad:
On the number of dogs you may keep:
Regardless of where in Florida you live, the bill “...[prohibits] a person from owning, possessing, controlling, or otherwise having in custody 50 or more dogs at any one time."
On crates and enclosures:
“...[dogs] must be able to lie down while fully extended without the head, tail, legs, face, or feet of the dog touching any side of the enclosure and without touching any other dog in the cage when all dogs are lying down simultaneously.”
“The interior height of the enclosure must be at least 6 inches higher than the head of the tallest dog in the enclosure when that dog is in a normal standing position. Each cage must be at least three times the length of the longest dog in the cage, from tip of nose to base of tail.”
On housing safety:
“...[housing] must be equipped with working smoke alarms and have a means of fire suppression, such as functioning fire extinguishers or a sprinkler system on the premises.”
“...[housing] must have sufficient lighting to allow for observation of the dogs at any time during the day or night.”
“Ensure that all dogs housed in the same housing or enclosure are compatible, as determined by observation by trained persons.”
“A dog may not be bred if a veterinarian determines that the animal is unfit for breeding purposes.”
“Only dogs between the ages of 18 months and 8 years of age may be used for breeding.”
“Female dogs may be allowed to whelp only one litter per year.”
“...[The bill authorizes] an animal control officer, other authorized public health or safety official, or law enforcement officer, after receiving a complaint or upon his or her own initiative, to investigate any alleged violation of the act; providing that a violation of the act is a misdemeanor of the first degree”
AKA, they can enter your home without a warrant if they suspect you keep more than ten dogs.
And here’s the kicker:
This bill specifically exempts retail pet stores. It only applies to any citizen who may or may not have a license to breed pets in their home. It defines the term retail pet store as a “commercial establishment that engages in the for-profit business of selling at retail cats, dogs, or other animals to be kept as household pets.
It also exempts veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels and other “retail” pet establishments.
OK, so now I have to ask...what does “retail” mean?
Lest we get too caught up in the devilish details, let’s back up a second and take a hard look at what Florida is trying to achieve with its twin dog breeding bills. It’s goal is ostensibly to...
1. ...advance animal welfare imperatives at the micro level
2. ...regulate backyard breeding
3. ...thwart puppy-millers
While it does address numbers 1 and 2, it definitely doesn’t do much for 3 since the loopholes in these bills are big enough to drive a puppy-laden semi through...with room to spare.
What it does do is build a series of hoops––reasonable and unreasonable alike––from how wide the slats in your floor may be to what kind of veterinary care your pets receive. In fact, the arbitrary nature of the specifications is enough to question the true intent of these bills. What are they really going for here?
Here’s where you ask, “Regardless of whom the bills exempt and who can still get away with it, what kind of a veterinarian doesn’t welcome the regulation of irresponsible breeders and those who would house ten-plus dogs under one roof?”
I wouldn’t dispute the basic sentiment that underlies your question. I see my fair share of bad breeders whose operations I’d like to see go away forever. But I also care for breeding pets whose owners don’t deserve to be micromanaged so arbitrarily...not to the tune of a warrantless search.
After all, how would you feel if a police officer made her way into your home on a neighbor’s tip that you were keeping more than ten pets? Whether you are or you’re not, law enforcement of any rank and file would have the right to enter your residence, check it out and hand you a ticket for each technicality...or wave goodbye after checking out your place.
So now it’s my turn to ask: Since when did the animal police's powers supersede the child police's, the drug police's or the gun police's?
Warrantless searches for potential animal violations are an asinine invention Florida’s bill-backers would do well to abandon. If they truly hope to improve the health and welfare of Florida’s breeding pets they should look to the laws already on our books.
Doing so would help demonstrate that poor enforcement of existing animal laws dogs us far more than the absence of those that seek to improve animal health at the expense of ordinary citizens.