For animals, the 2010 legislative session was good and bad. Good in that penalties for animal cruelty were increased, but bad in that puppy mill operators remain unregulated.
On June 24, Gov. Beverly Perdue signed the anti-cruelty bill (S 254) into law. Susie's Law, as it is known, increases the penalty for "maliciously" killing or causing death by "intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance" of an animal from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class H felony.
"I applaud the improvement that Susie's Law gives us," says Hope Hancock, Wake County SPCA executive director. "But this bill can not eclipse the animal welfare issues we still have to face."
Amanda Arrington, director of the Durham-based Coalition to Unchain Dogs, says that while any improvement in penalizing crimes against animals is a positive step, the bill has shortcomings.
"Our state has a difficult felony cruelty law to actually prosecute," she says, "and now you have to prove malice and intent to prosecute."
Animal welfare activists worry that it will be difficult to find a district attorney willing to take on an animal cruelty case that requires proof of malice and intent by an alleged perpetrator. The law also requires proof, such as a dead animal.
"This is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound," said Arrington. "It will now be more difficult to redo the language in the felony statute, since the Legislature will say, 'We just saw this last session' and possibly dismiss it on that alone."
While Susie's Law passed, the puppy mill bill, as it was called, failed.
A year ago, state Sen. Don Davis (D-Wayne) introduced the Commercial Dog Breeder Regulation bill (S 460). The bill would have required breeders with 15 or more female dogs of puppy-bearing age and 30 or more puppies for sale during a 12-month period to register with the state and follow the animal welfare regulations required by the N.C. Department of Agriculture: "adequate" veterinary care, housing, food and water.
But the bill faced opposition from deep-pocketed North Carolina special interest groups. When lobbyists from the N.C. Pork Council, National Rifle Association, American Kennel Club and Farm Bureau embarked on a misinformation campaign, erroneously insinuating that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) would automatically obtain the right to regulate all farm animals if allowed to regulate puppy mills. The campaign worked, and the bill was killed.
"The puppy mill bill did not pass, for all the wrong reasons," says Hancock, adding that fear-based tactics were used to kill the bill.
"These people didn't have a problem with the bill itself but with the HSUS," said Arrington, who began lobbying for the bill as early as 2008. "They assumed that if legislators vote for one animal bill, they will vote for them all."
A puppy mill dog that does not find an owner before the cute and fuzzy wears off often spends its entire life in a crate, stacked upon another crate containing another animal. In extreme cases, when the dogs are removed from the crate they can't walk on their own and suffer from debilitating medical issues.
Hancock says that if puppy mills are not regulated, the state and the taxpayers will continue to bear the cost of sheltering these animals.
"These dogs and puppies are typically very bad adoption candidates," she said. "We spend more time rehabilitating these animals medically and behaviorally than we would a dog off the street."
While Hancock was disappointed at the outcome, she is inspired to work a little harder. "We [activists] are now aware of the grassroots effort we will have to begin to see that these breeders are regulated," she said.
"This has been a growing problem in North Carolina," said Arrington, "and the fact that this bill went so far was a sign that it is a good bill, and we will not give up on this."