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Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Indiana puppy-mill bill draws debate from animal welfare advocates, local officials

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Animal welfare advocates, puppy breeders and Bloomington officials disagree over an Indiana bill that would prohibit local communities from banning the retail sale of pets. The bill could prevent municipalities from forming bans like the one Bloomington passed in 2021.  

House Bill 1412, authored by Rep. Beau Baird, R-Greencastle, would implement statewide regulations for commercial dog breeders, brokers and retail pet stores, including random annual inspections by the Indiana Board of Animal Health beginning July 1, 2025. Pet stores would also have to maintain records demonstrating where the store obtained every dog it sold, and make the list available to the public. Breeders would be required to register with the BOAH and become certified by a national canine care standards program developed by researchers at Purdue University.  

The bill would mandate retail pet stores to provide information on a dog’s medical history, vaccination status, pedigree registration, microchipping and the dog breeder it came from, if applicable.   

House Bill 1412 had its first reading in the Senate on Feb. 5 and was referred to the Committee on Agriculture. 

Canine standards of care draw support 

Jonathan Lawler, a spokesperson for the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare, spoke in support of the bill, saying it is the first step in eliminating unethical, substandard dog breeding operations. While breeders can get involved with inhabitable conditions, poor grooming and overbreeding, he said, complete bans on dog sales will not end harmful breeding.  

“I believe that a responsible breeder can absolutely sell to a pet store, especially if they have a relationship with that pet store,” Lawler said.  

House Bill 1412 would require pet stores to accept —for any reason — the return of a dog sold within three days of sale. Not all pet stores currently uphold this policy. Lawler said this discourages impulse purchases by people who may buy a pet on a whim and later realize they can’t care for it properly, allowing them to return the pet if needed.  

“If somebody is regretting purchasing a dog, welfare might become an issue for that animal,” Lawler said. 

Lori Wilson, co-CEO of Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers, which has six locations across Indiana, said the bill would ensure pet stores and breeders follow top standards for animal care. 

The nationwide Animal Welfare Act requires wholesale breeders and dealers who supply animals to pet stores or brokers to be licensed with the United States Department of Agriculture. Breeders must meet the minimum standards of humane animal care and treatment established by the AWA. But many animal advocates — including Wilson and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals —  say the USDA standards are merely survival standards, while canine care standards are designed to help dogs thrive.  

“One hundred percent, it’s exactly where Indiana needs to be,” Wilson said. “That standardized approach encompasses everything that an animal needs: the physical, mental, exercise and sociability. That program is really going to be the forefront of what is going to come for hopefully the rest of the U.S.”  

Dr. Candace Croney is the director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, and the creator of the canine care certification program. Croney said she and a group of other researchers developed the canine care program because breeders asked her to advise them on how to best raise and care for their dogs. It became clear, she said, that a more scientific and comprehensive approach to animal welfare was needed than what the law requires.  

Croney said she’s delighted any time she can teach people who care for dogs why it’s important to improve their quality of life and to ask questions about dogs’ wellbeing. 

“They can learn from us to look at their dogs and see how we evaluate them so that they can see what we see and make the adjustments that they need to make,” Croney said. 

Croney’s guidelines include five pillars of care, — detailed rules about physical health, behavioral health, environment, breeding life and retirement, and caretaker expectations.  

To become canine care-certified, a breeder must sign up for the program online and submit the required documentation. Then, an independent audit by Validus — a third-party, nationally-recognized certification company — will occur, conducting a detailed review and walkthrough to ensure the breeder meets each standard.  

Audits are scheduled to occur annually, Croney said, but are scheduled in a way that leaves only a few days until the audit, meaning breeders cannot forge humane conditions for the purposes of passing the audit.  

“The dogs don’t get the memo that they should change their physical health status or how fat or thin they are because an audit is scheduled,” Croney said. “Even if you think someone could quickly try and clean up their act before an audit, between the records, the interview and what the dogs show, it’s really hard to do that.”  

Opposition to the bill 

One of the most contested provisions in the bill would block communities from enforcing bans on pet sales, which currently exist in 21 ordinances across the state – including Bloomington. While some say the bill will develop regulations for safe breeding practices, others criticize the bill’s potential to usurp local control and discourage adoption.  

The Humane Society of the United States released a statement in opposition to the bill, criticizing what they said is the bill’s allowance of sourcing from puppy mills. Puppy mills are establishments that breed puppies for sale, typically under intensive conditions. 

The bill states stores can sell from any breeder who is USDA-licensed and does not have a “direct violation” of the Animal Welfare Act during the past two years.  

“It would not incentivize pet stores to start sourcing puppies from canine care certified breeders since they could still purchase dogs from massive puppy mills and brokers who can more easily fill their cages,” the statement read. 

Samantha Chapman, the Indiana state director for the HSUS, said she thinks responsible breeders do not sell to commercial pet stores, who often put profit above passion for a breed.  

“At the end of the day, this bill is about preempting local control so that pet stores can continue to sell puppy mill dogs in the state of Indiana,” Chapman said. “The standards are secondary and allow for pet stores to continue to source from inhumane puppy mills.”  

Bloomington officials have expressed concern about the bill’s enforcement.  

Bloomington’s ordinance banning the sale of cats and dogs in retail pet stores was passed in 2021. City Council District I Representative Isabel Piedmont-Smith said the ban was an effort to reduce the city’s shelter overpopulation problem and encourage people to connect with a new pet through adoption. She said the statehouse often creates statewide mandates after local governments pass their own rules, which feels like an attempt at stripping away power.  

“Things like this are a reflection of community values and the local government really knows better, is better in touch with the local values of a city like Bloomington than people who are up in Indianapolis at the statehouse,” she said.  

Piedmont-Smith said she’s unsure how the Board of Animal Health would handle additional inspections, because the bill does not provide extra funding for staffing.  

“The local ordinance we have — it doesn't allow sales of dogs to start with, so there’s no extra inspection required or follow-up,” she said. “I think that is a much more viable process to get at what we want, which is the reduction of cruelty to animals.”  

Virgil Sauder, director of Bloomington Animal Care and Control, acknowledged House Bill 1412 as an effort to move forward in animal welfare but said he’s also concerned about funding and BOAH’s ability to keep up with inspections.  

“There’s a difference in a breeder that loves a specific breed and endorses that specific breed, will follow up with their animals after they’re sold and will take their animals back if there's any issues,” Sauder said. “Then you have individuals who are breeding primarily for money, and there's a different ethic that goes into it. That's a hard thing to enforce because it can be a very fine line. When looking at options locally, that's where the pet store ban was decided because that was more or less the best way we could do it and work with that fine line of care.”  

Denise Derrer Spears, public information officer for the Board of Animal Health, said the agency is not commenting on the legislation and is following discussion in the General Assembly.

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