CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Diva struggled to pull her makeshift wheelchair through the tall blades of grass. After a few minutes, her owner picked her up and moved her to concrete where the Shih Tzu can maneuver almost like any other dog, though the toenails on her hind legs drag across the pavement.
Diva’s spunk belies her physical paralysis, as she runs from person to person looking for rubs and scratches. She’s come a long way from the day she was rescued.
“She was severely matted. She was covered in feces and mud,” said Jorge Ortega, Diva’s owner, who built the wheelchair from PVC pipe and wheels from his daughter’s toy.
Ortega was part of a Humane Society group that retrieved Diva from a puppy mill. Mills are considered to be large scale commercial breeders that keep costs low and profits high, while keeping the dogs in deplorable conditions.
Ortega said Diva was paralyzed in her back legs when she was discovered.
“She had to fight for food. And fight for water, so basically she was dragging herself in the mud, in the feces in order to get food and shelter,” said Ortega.
Since 2011, 16 puppy mills have been busted in North Carolina, according the Humane Society of the United States, far outpacing neighboring states. In that same period, three were busted in South Carolina; one in Tennessee; and no busts were reported in Georgia and Virginia.
“It’s embarrassing at this point. It’s a black eye on North Carolina,” said Kim Alboum, Director of Human Society of North Carolina.
Alboum has been pushing for five years to get puppy mill regulations passed by state lawmakers in Raleigh.
Current state animal cruelty law requires an animal control officer to prove ‘unjustifiable pain and suffering,’ before busting a puppy mill, a phrase some say is legally broad and difficult to prove.
Last year, Lincolnton Republican Representative Jason Saine introduced a compromise bill, House Bill 930. With the Governor’s support and bipartisan backing, HB 930 requires commercial breeders to meet a list of straight-forward but boiler-plate measures. It’s a watered-down bill, by most accounts.
“Basic things, like light, shelter, they need food and water,” said Saine.
See the full bill: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H930v3.pdf
Saine said past opponents of puppy mill regulations in the agriculture and pork industry backed down in their opposition to HB 930. In fact, he said all opponents dropped opposition to the bill; except one.
“That’s right. Yup. A.K.C. They’re the ones who continue to oppose the bill.”
The American Kennel Club is a world famous organization promoting the breeding of pure-bred dogs. It’s refers to itself as the “dog’s champion”.
“The American Kennel Club actually receives money for all the puppies that [are] registered through them,” said Alboum.
Last year, the New York Times reported the A.K.C. “often lobbies against basic animal rights bills because they could cut into dog registration fees….Roughly 40-percent of the A.K.C.’s $61 million in revenue came from fees related to registration.”
Saine said he even included the AKC’s standards for care into HB 930, hoping to gain the club’s endorsement. It didn’t happen.
The A.K.C. declined NBC Charlotte’s repeated requests for an interview. The club issued a statement:
The American Kennel Club (AKC) believes that devoting more resources to enforcing current laws is a better solution than more regulation. North Carolina’s Animal Welfare Act already provides laws to govern the care of animals. Recent law enforcement actions against substandard kennels demonstrate that these laws work. The priority should be on providing local law enforcement with the resources they need to properly enforce these laws.
Some interest groups have used recent enforcement actions to lobby for the passage of HB 930. This bill would make the situation worse – not better.
• It attempts to regulate people as “commercial breeders” based on the number of dogs they own, not commercial activity. No one should be defined as a business based solely on property ownership.
• It requires standards of care for some dogs but not others. AKC believes that all dogs deserve to be treated in a humane manner.
• It would make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs, because it requires them to account for a variety of exemptions before they can enforce basic standards of care.
AKC has more than 125 years of canine expertise and is dedicated to working with community leaders to ensure the best interest of all dogs and responsible owners in North Carolina.
The AKC assertion that HB 930 provides a standard of care ‘for some dogs but not others,’ refers to an exemption in the bill for sporting and hunting dogs. Saine said it was a concession to help get the bill passed.
But the AKC’s assertions about helping law enforcement may not be completely supported. The animal control officer involved in citing the state’s most recent alleged puppy mill in Alexander County said the AKC is wrong; the current law isn’t working, a new law is needed.
“It would make my job easier. And it would make every animal control officers’ job easier, instead of spending three weeks, two weeks, two months, trying to fix a problem,” said Thomas McDaniels, Alexander County animal control officer.
Still, it’s up to lawmakers in Raleigh to get HB 930 passed. It sailed through the North Carolina House, 101-14. It now sits in the Senate.
“We clearly have a majority that would support this bill, if we could get it to the floor,” said Saine.
That could be difficult. High-ranking State Senator Bill Rabon has said publically he’d stop the bill from becoming law. His office referred NBC Charlotte to Senate leadership for interviews.
A look at campaign finance reports indicate the AKC has donated to Rabon’s campaign in the past, along with some of the most powerful politicians in Raleigh. Some support the puppy mill law, some do not.
Saine said the lack of action is an indictment of state lawmakers.
“I think it is. In an era where politicians are not very well thought of, you have an issue that’s win-win,”he said.
In the meantime, whether the current animal cruelty laws get more enforcement, as the AKC suggests, or HB 930 is passed, dogs like Diva wait to be saved from puppy mills.
“What’s really scary is that there are still dogs out in those same conditions today that would be great household pets,” said Ortega.