Guest blogger, Abhi Sivasailam, lays out a clear argument against Proposition B.
Missouri has been called the “puppy mill capital” of America. The distinction is well-deserved. Missourians breed nearly 40 percent of the puppies sold in the United States. Most of these puppies are bred by conscientious licensed breeders. Many of these puppies, however, are bred in puppy mills under inhumane conditions. Missouri not only has more puppy mills than most states but also worse puppy mills than most states. Bearing all this in mind, it is difficult to dispute that Proposition B – which aims to improve the conditions under which dogs are bred – is well-intentioned. However, it is equally difficult to dispute that Proposition B is a poor fix for a serious problem. There are two key reasons to vote no on Proposition B.
First, Proposition B does little to improve the status quo. In fact, in some ways Prop B is actually more lenient than existing laws. For example, the current law requires dogs to be fed once every 12 hours. Meanwhile, Prop B mandates that a dog be fed only once per day. The current law requires breeders to employ an attending vet and arrange for animals to be inspected once per day. Meanwhile, Prop B specifies a minimum of one visit to a licensed veterinarian per year. Moreover, though animal abuse issues exist in Missouri, licensed breeders are seldom the source of the problem; the perpetrators of abuse are most often unlicensed breeders operating outside the boundaries of the law. Prop B does not specify an increase in resources dedicated to discovering and prosecuting crimes against animals. As such, there is little reason to believe that Prop B will reduce the levels of current unlicensed breeders.
Second, new regulations will drive legitimate breeders out of the market. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the costs of complying with the bill are significant. Individual breeders have estimated that the costs of renovating their facilities in compliance with the proposed law may be as high as $50,000. In many cases, the costs of complying with the bill are great enough that they will force smaller breeding establishments out of the industry, and prevent future firms from entering. In many cases, these firms that will be priced out of the market are respectable breeders who treat their dogs well and are in full compliance of the current laws. On net, the new regulations will contribute to the unemployment of breeders at a time when jobs are already scarce. Of the breeders that remain in operation, most will invest in complying with the law and simply see smaller profits. Yet, we can expect that some of these breeders will leave the formal, legal market and continue their operations covertly. As aforementioned, many of the problems with the status quo stem from unlicensed breeders operating outside the law. Thus, to the extent that Prop B will increase the number of unlicensed breeders, Prop B will increase the animal abuse problems associated with these unlicensed breeders.
The value implicit in Proposition B is that animal welfare matters. It is easy to see how this value is meaningful. It is less easy to see how Proposition B as it has been crafted represents a viable solution to the problems that animals face. Proposition B weakens some of the prevailing legal rules, fails to improve enforcement of animal abuse crimes, and prices breeders out of the formal legal market and into either the unemployment line or into the underground market. In doing so, Proposition B is not just an inadequate solution, but may actually do disservice to the very value it seeks to advance.
Abhi Sivasailam is a student of economics at the University of Missouri