What's wrong in these pictures?

Fluff had a hard life as a bred female at an Eastern Montana puppy mill. She was eight years old when she arrived at Billings Animal Rescue Kare and still lactating from her last litter. Fluff’s fur was all mats and her body was full of fleas, ticks and worms. An untreated tooth abscess had caused a sore that penetrated her cheek from the inside to the outside. When a BARK veterinarian began spaying surgery, she found multiple tumors indicating that cancer had spread through Fluff's body and that her last pregnancy must have been very painful. She had to be put down.

Chester, a purebred Manchester terrier born at a Billings area puppy mill and sold at a pet store, couldn't bend his front legs when he was brought to BARK. He was adopted by a new family who understood that he would never have full use of his front legs.

Peekaboo, a tiny Maltese, was crippled when rescued from a barn by a Montana woman who had arranged to purchase another puppy advertised on the internet. Concerned about the dogs’ health, the woman bought four-week-old Peekaboo, her parents and a sibling. Peekaboo was born with hip dysplasia in her right rear leg. She was adopted by a couple willing to care for her.

When McNab, a Scottish terrier, was 10 months old, his body was riddled with parasites and his fur completely matted. He was afraid of being touched, especially by men, when he arrived at BARK. After several months of treatment and socialization, he was neutered and was adopted by a reputable Billings dog breeder.

Sandy Price, BARK director, shared the stories of Fluff, Chester, Peekabo, McNab and other Montana puppy mill dogs with a Montana House committee in 2013. All the dogs had been at breeding operations where humane treatment and proper care to produce healthy pets was sadly lacking. The 2013 legislation sponsored by Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, died in House Agriculture Committee as many healthy pet bills had before. MacDonald’s bill proposed to have the Montana Department of Livestock regulate large commercial dog breeders.

In the 2017 session, Rep. Willis McCurdy, D-Missoula, is sponsoring HB570, which proposes that the Montana Board of Veterinary Medicine license and regulate large-scale dog and cat breeders.

Although the Montana Veterinary Medicine Association supported the 2013 bill for the livestock department to regulate pet breeders, the group opposed McCurdy’s bill. The Board of Veterinary Medicine voted unanimously to oppose the bill. At the board’s March meeting, members said that regulating pet breeders doesn’t fit with the professional licensing board’s other duties and they worried that the cost of regulating pet breeders would require an increase in license fees for the state’s 1,000 veterinarians.

A similar pet breeder bill, HB582, sponsored by Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, is scheduled for a hearing Thursday before the House Business and Labor Committee.

Both Hertz and Curdy propose to allow the board of veterinary medicine to accept private donations to a fund that would be solely used for covering costs of licensing and inspecting large-scale dog and cat breeding facilities. Both bills would apply only to operations that have at least eight intact female cats or dogs and sell the offspring.

The urgency of addressing Montana puppy mill problems is seen in headlines from Thompson Falls to Polson, Boulder, Helena and Billings. Many Gazette readers will recall a case several years ago that required Yellowstone County to care for about 200 maltreated dogs — most English shepherds — seized from a breeding operation near Ballantine. The care of these dogs, including several litters of puppies born while the case went through court, cost Yellowstone County taxpayers more than $250,000, not including private donations and thousands of hours of volunteer time.

Montana is one of only 16 states that doesn’t regulate dog and cat breeders. As a result, our state has become a haven for puppy mills, according to testimony in support of HB570.

One hundred thirty small dogs seized last year by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department had lived their entire lives without touching the ground because they were kept on wire mesh. Teeth were falling out of the dogs’ mouths, according to Sheriff Don Bell.

“The people that had this puppy mill sought out Montana, checked which had the least restrictive laws and they moved to our state,” Bell told the House committee.

Curdy and Hertz state the same purpose in their bills: “to ensure that dogs and cats that are bred, sold, exchanged or adopted in Montana are healthy and to ensure than an animal does not enter commerce with diseases or injuries that cause suffering to the animal and are unfairly and unexpectedly financially and emotionally expensive to purchasers and adopters.”

This is a quality of life bill for dogs, cats and the Montanans who love them.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which administers the Board of Veterinary Medicine, already employs inspectors for various state inspection duties. They can handle the anticipated small number of dog/cat breeder licenses applications. As good operators comply with the law, the expertise of local veterinarians and the assistance of local sheriff’s offices will be needed to deal with bad operators — the puppy mills. By enacting commercial pet protection as Hertz and Curdy propose, Montana will discourage bad breeders from setting up shop in our state.

Right now, Montana taxpayers and pet lovers are at high risk for exploitation by unscrupulous dog breeders. The 2017 Montana Legislature has the opportunity and responsibility to protect the public by approving HB570 or HB582.

We call on the House Business and Labor Committee to send a commercial pet protection act to the House floor this week.

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