AUGUSTA, Maine — Dog and cat breeders, shelter operators, humane agents and state officials charged with caring for animals worked for hours Wednesday on new kennel regulations, coming to agreement on many issues.
The task force was created by the Legislature last winter to work with the Animal Welfare Division’s Director Norma Worley and state veterinarian Christine Fraser to create new breeding standards. A full report will be ready by January, along with a draft bill.
Statutory kennel regulations, the task force maintains, will weed out those breeders not providing adequate care and help solve Maine’s puppy mill problem.
But one of the most exciting endeavors suggested Wednesday was the creation of a Blue Ribbon Breeder designation, one that will be promoted by the state and appear on the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Web site. The Blue Ribbon designation will highlight those Maine breeders that are doing everything right and responsibly, and give them an opportunity to use that status as a marketing tool.
“People are paying $3,000 for a puppy and then the breeder refuses to give them the [pedigree registration] papers,” Larry Doyon said. Doyon represents the state’s dog breeders on the task force. “I get calls like this all the time. We need some teeth in the law.”
One of Doyon’s suggestions was to create a refund penalty if a seller fails to provide registry documentation to the buyer with 90 days.
“People are getting taken by [American Kennel Club] frauds,” Worley said, referring to the dozens of breeders that advertise purebred puppies and cats but then fail to provide certification.
Jay Kitchner, representing the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs, said Maine has just 15 AKC-registered kennels, yet a quick check of most large newspapers and the Uncle Henry’s shoppers’ guide shows hundreds of dogs for sale by others, all purporting to be pedigreed or purebred.
Sharon Ann Paradis said there are only 10 licensed catteries in the state, despite many more advertisers.
The new regulations deal with minimum standards for shelter, exercise, pen sizes, the sale of cats and dogs, and the definitions of breeders and kennels. Details of the standards include the elimination of wire cages, having a veterinarian of record, proper grooming, correct food and sanitation of all enclosures twice a day.
The new definitions also address the issue of free housing. “I’ve been in places where there are 50 dogs, all together in one area,” Fraser said. “This raises disease and safety issues, not to mention sanitation issues.”
The regulations apply only to breeding kennels and do not include household pets and sled dogs.
A tiered system is being favored, designating hobby breeders and commercial breeders and changing the licensing fees based on the kennel’s function, rather than numbers of dogs. As the proposal exists, the kennel fee for hobby breeders — those with five to nine intact females — would remain the same, at $75. Small commercial breeders with between 10 and 25 intact females would pay $100, and large breeders with 26 or more intact females would pay $200.
Several task force members said they have been heavily criticized by some Maine breeders for creating what some breeders call restrictive rules and an atmosphere of fear of inspections and seizures by the AWD.
“These are minimum standards,” Worley said. “We haven’t raised the bar too high. We work with people and avoid seizures. We can’t afford it.” The AWD is in the hole $660,000 after more than 500 animals were seized over the past year in some very high-profile cases.
Doyon said, “If people are doing everything right, they don’t need to worry about an inspection.”
Task force members agreed that if a breeder is not meeting the proper standards, the department will work with them to bring their kennel up to snuff.
“If we identify four problems and you fix one and two and haven’t done three and four, we aren’t going to seize your animals or shut your kennel,” Fraser said. “We are going to work with you.”
Doyon said he had received hundreds of e-mails full of misperceptions about the task force’s work. “The goals here are to put regulations in place that treat animals humanely. That’s it.”