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POKIN AROUND: Why are we No. 1 in puppy sales? Is it the climate?

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If you believe those who have worked to overturn Proposition B, the measure would wreak financial hardship across rural Missouri. Breeders would be put out of business and the economic hurt would leave a bruise.

Obviously, the commercial breeding of puppies is big business in the state. In fact, we're No. 1 when it comes to the commercial breeding and selling of puppies.

Why?

Why are commercial puppy breeders apparently the only people willing to operate in Missouri without a bevy of tax breaks?

Is it our skilled labor pool? Our rich soil? Our willingness to roll back the minimum wage?

According to Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, Missouri is by far the top wholesaler of puppies to third-party brokers.

There are states where just as many puppies are sold, Baker says, but they are typically sold by small breeders, or "hobby breeders," directly to buyers.

Missouri is dominated by large commercial breeders who sell to brokers who, in turn, transport the animals and sell them to pet stores, Baker says.

Baker is a supporter of Prop B, called the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which was passed by voters in November.

Karen Strange, president of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, is not.

According to Strange, the reason the state is so attractive to dog breeders is the climate.

How so?

"It's not too hot and it's not too cold," she says.

Surely, I thought, there had to be something else. She could think of nothing else. So I asked if the state was dog-breeder heaven because regulations are lax.

She said, clearly, I must have been brainwashed by the animal-rights groups, specifically the Humane Society of the United States.

"Our breeders do a good job and the puppies they provide are in high demand nationwide," she says.

"They are professionals," she says. "They do work hand-in-hand with their veterinarians. They're inspected by the department of agriculture."

Prop B, she says, was not a Missouri issue until the HSUS poured money into the state to make it one. She says 82 percent of the funds behind the Prop B campaign came from out of state.

"The reason Prop B was introduced in Missouri is they want to eliminate this industry because we are the biggest and the best," she says. "If you take down Missouri, all other states will follow suit."

Still, I can't help but wonder ... Missouri has a better climate for dog breeding than Kansas? Arkansas? California?

Baker has a different opinion. He has worked in the animal welfare field since 1980. He doesn't believe climate is a factor.

Commercial dog breeding gained a foothold in Missouri after Kansas passed a tough new law in 1988. The industry border hopped our way, he says.

Baker cites three main reasons why we're now No. 1.

The state is centrally located, making it easier for dog brokers to transport puppies across the nation.

Second, dog breeding is best done in a rural area, and Missouri has more individual farms than all states other than Texas.

And, yes, he says, Missouri is No. 1 in part because of its disregard for the welfare of the dogs being bred in large commercial operations.

"In Missouri these things are tolerated when in other states it would not," he says. "So many of these facilities are so bad."

That's why, he says, commercial breeders don't ever want individual buyers to come to their breeding facilities. They would much rather sell to brokers and, more recently, to individuals over the Internet.

Under current law, Baker says, the wire cage housing a breeding dog need only be 6 inches longer than the dog.

Twice, Baker says, he worked with the ABC television show "20/20" to expose deplorable conditions in the dog breeding industry in Missouri. The media coverage prompted Missouri lawmakers to pass the state's first regulations in 1992. The law took effect in 1994.

Baker says the 1994 law is now inadequate.

Prop B is scheduled to take effect Nov. 2. But its fate is in the hands of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Missouri lawmakers this month passed Senate Bill 113, which would eliminate many of the provisions of Prop B.

The saga took a dramatic turn last week when Nixon, a Democrat, apparently brokered a compromise. Nixon wants lawmakers to pass an amendment to SB 161 that would eliminate Prop B's cap of 50 breeding dogs per business but would also phase in over five years requirements for the more humane treatment of dogs.

Republicans, in turn, argue that if Nixon had anything to say about the issue he should have said it long before they went to the trouble of passing a bill. They insist he first sign Senate Bill 113 before there's even talk of compromise.

But if Nixon signs Senate Bill 113, he loses whatever bargaining leverage he has. Scott Holste, a Nixon spokesman, had no news Monday on what his boss will do.

Strange and Baker do agree on one thing. They like Nixon's proposed solution.

Steve Pokin is a columnist for the Suburban Journals. He can be reached at spokin@yourjournal.com or by phone at 636-946-6111, ext. 239. His column is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PokinAround.

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