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Groups remain divided over Va.'s puppy-mill law

By jim Published: December 14, 2009

STUARTS DRAFT, Va. (AP) — Almost a year after Virginia's puppy-mill bill became law, restricting the size of breeding operations and stiffening inspection and record-keeping practices, canine advocacy and breeding groups remain divided on its impact.

Fueled by a Humane Society investigation into Virginia breeders, last year the state became the first to limit kennel operators to no more than 50 dogs older than 1 unless approved under local ordinance.

The law made it a Class 1 misdemeanor for breeders to fall short of business license, veterinarian certification and record-keeping requirements.

The Humane Society and the Virginia Animal Control Association backed the bill. The Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, the American Kennel Club and other hunting-dog groups opposed it.

Leaders of many of those groups say puppy-mill raids have not increased in number or scope since passage of the bill and that investigations continue as before.

Last week, Augusta County authorities canceled the kennel permit of Stuarts Draft breeder Kyle Brydge but did not use the new puppy-mill law to do so or pursue charges against him.

Brydge pleaded guilty in September to 102 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty, inadequate care and improper record keeping. Judge Michael Quigley Jr. ordered Brydge to pay $10,890 in restitution and barred him from owning more than six companion animals.

The Augusta County Zoning Appeals Board stripped Brydge's permit after it reviewed animal control inspection documents and a 200-page state veterinarian report detailing flea infestation, dehydration and other problems in the small-breed female dogs kept by Brydge.

Debbie Caywood, director of the Augusta Regional SPCA, said she still worries about enforcement. She said last week that Brydge and his wife have 12 dogs on the property.

Proponents call the new puppy-mill law a good but underutilized tool for law enforcement. Detractors call it an unnecessary law passed on trumped-up puppy-mill allegations, and one that puts the focus on the number of dogs instead of the quality of care.

"It's created a climate of fear for breeders in the state," said Sharyn Hutchens, legislative liaison for the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders.

Not so, said Kathleen Summers, manager of the Humane Society puppy-mills campaign, who defends the law.

"This makes it very specific for (animal-control officers)," she said.

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