Puppy mill cases raise animal rights vs. property rights
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:
“I think it’s called dog-napping,” Junior Horton of Horton’s
Pups told Donna Alvis-Banks of the Roanoke Times, after humane
societies from throughout the region took some of the 980 dogs who
were seized during the first few days of November from Horton’s
property in Hillsdale, Virginia.
Some of the rescuers made almost the same charge against Horton.
There were reportedly about 1,100 dogs on the premises when
the impoundments began. Someone allegedly removed 200 to 300 of the
dogs before they could be taken into custody, Danville Area Humane
Society director Paulette Dean told Danville Register & Bee staff
writer Rebecca Blanton.
“The authorities worked out an agreement with Horton, but
they didn’t tell him he couldn’t move any of the animals,” Dean
elaborated. “They thought he would honor his word about keeping the
The conflict in perspectives exemplified the difference in
outlook between breeders and rescuers. In Horton’s view, the humane
societies were taking property that employee Timmy Bullion told
Associated Press might be worth as much as $450,000. To the
rescuers, the dogs were not property but individual lives in
The difference in viewpoints is central to a set of
initiative petitions now being circulated by California dog breeders,
who have until April 21, 2008 to collect the 700,000 signatures of
California registered voters that they need to put their proposals on
the November 2008 state ballot.
One of the proposals, Initiative 1294, would amend the
state constitution to declare that “all animals owned by citizens,
including pets and animals used for agricultural purposes, are
property,” and would “prohibit enactment or enforcement of any law
that would characterize privately-owned animals as anything other
Another, Initiative 1295, would “prohibit enactment or
enforcement of any law requiring or coercing by any means, including
financial penalty, sexual sterilization of any human or animal.”
This would repeal all licensing and adoption ordinances that offer
discounts to people whose animals are sterilized, and would also
repeal the breed-specific requirement for sterilizing pit bull
terriers that has within the past year cut the number of pit bulls
impounded by the San Francisco Depart-ment of Animal Care and Control
Behind the court cases and the California initiatives appears
to be a pervasive and spreading belief among breeders that humane
societies want to establish a monopoly on selling animals. Some
allege that this might be a first step toward achieving the stated
PETA goal of eventually eliminating pet-keeping. Even many breeders
who doubt the possibility of a plot linking PETA with humane
societies are often convinced that humane societies are eager to
confiscate and sell breeders’ animals–for the money.
Circulating in anti-animal rights literature since the early
1990s, these beliefs have gained a following as shelters have
become more aggressive about advertising animals for adoption in
competition with breeders; enjoy the advantages of placing animals
through the PetSmart and Petco adoption boutiques, which exclude
breeders; succeed in placing ever higher percentages of the dogs
they receive, so that demand for some types of dog far exceeds the
shelter supply; and have become increasingly inclined to set
adoption fees that reflect demand.
Setting a higher adoption fee for a small dog or a pedigreed
dog is a flashpoint for breeder ire, in particular, because this
looks to breeders like doing the same thing they do: trying to make
a profit from animals, instead of just finding homes.
Few shelters set higher adoption fees for the most adoptable
animals until under 10 years ago, due to a prevailing belief that
variable adoption fees implied that some animals’ lives had less
value–but until under 10 years ago most shelter animals were killed.
Now that most dogs of breeds other than pit bull terrier are adopted
or returned to their homes, pegging adoption fees to demand is
widely seen as just maximizing revenue, so as to be able to help
more animals in need.
But now that pit bull terriers often make up half or more of
the dog intake at major shelters, breeders often allege that
shelters impounding their dogs merely want to have other kinds of dog
available for adoption.
Claims that shelters have a pecuniary interest in seizing
dogs are involved in two cases that are currently before courts in
New York and Maine.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Andrew O’Rourke on
November 13, 2007 stayed the proceedings in a case involving 13
Maltese dogs and pups until November 30. “We are talking about
these dogs as though they are cans of beans,” O’Rourke said. “They
are living beings. My concern is these dogs, and nobody has told me
what is going to happen to them, or if there are even going to be
inspections” to ensure that the dogs are properly cared for,
pending the final disposition of neglect charges against breeder
Linda Nelson, of Kent Cliffs.
Nelson was charged in July 2006 with 22 counts of neglect.
The dogs were seized by Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputy Barbara Dunn,
who searched Nelson’s home with a warrant entitling her to check on
the health and welfare of any person found inside.
Dunn is also the volunteer president of the Putnam County
Humane Society. Dunn placed the dogs in custody of the humane
society. The humane society then sued Nelson for the cost of keeping
the dogs while the neglect case progresses.
Nelson filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Dunn’s dual role
in the case represents a conflict of interest, and that Dunn and the
humane society violated her civil rights.
Ruling that Dunn did not have a warrant that entitled her to
search and seize dogs from the upstairs of Nelson’s residence, town
justice Peter J. Collins dismissed the charges pertaining to the six
dogs who were seized upstairs, and ordered the humane society to
return them to Nelson, along with two puppies who were later born to
Putnam County Humane Society lawyer David Bernham told
Collins that the humane society would not return animals to a person
being prosecuted for neglect.
Collins then ordered that the remaining five impounded dogs
be transferred to the SPCA of Westchester County, pending the
outcome of the case. But the Putnam County Humane Society refused to
surrender the dogs, whose whereabouts were not disclosed.
Breeeders John and Heidi Frasca, of Buxton, Maine, in
early November 2007 filed a lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in
Portland, prepared “without the help of an attorney,” wrote
Westbrook American Journal reporter Robert Lowell, which “claims
taking their animals violated their constitutional rights, and
alleges that the defendants should be held liable for conspiracy and
Among the defendants, Lowell said, are “Governor John
Baldacci, Attorney General Steven Rowe, and York County district
attorney Mark Lawrence, as well as several state and local
officials, multiple animal welfare groups, and private individuals.
The Frascas seek return of their dogs, and $900 million in damages.”
State and local investigators seized 249 dogs from the
Frascas on August 21, 2007, and in September were authorized by the
Biddeford District Court to sterilize them and offer them for
adoption. The Frascas appealed the verdict, but failed to post a
security bond of $867,740 that was required to pursue the appeal.
Charged with 25 counts of cruelty to animals, John Frasca
did not appear for arraignment on November 14. A warrant was issued
for his arrest.