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Originally published February 10, 2009 at 4:33 PM | Page modified February 10, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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Guest columnist

Stop inhumane puppy mills in Washington state

The intolerable circumstances recently exposed at three Washington puppy mills shows our state has a problem in regulating this often-inhumane industry, argues Daniel Paul, Washington state director of the Human Society of the United States. He urges support for state Senate Bill 5651, which would restrict the number of breeding dogs a person can own and set basic dog-care standards.

Special to The Times

THE Washington Legislature has both an opportunity and a compelling reason to stand up for the humane treatment of man's best friend.

The opportunity is a new bill to thwart the cruel puppy mill industry where dogs are churned out for sale as if they were nothing more than a living cash crop.

The cause for action? Three puppy mills recently were exposed here. Authorities found more than 600 dogs and puppies crammed into filthy cages without adequate food, water or veterinary care. More than 80 percent of the adult dogs were pregnant, placing an enormous burden on the state's animal-care community. What could more urgently illustrate the need for better laws to protect dogs from exploitation and suffering?

Puppy mills typically have little regard for sound breeding practices or the health of the animals they sell in mass numbers to pet stores and Internet buyers. Breeding dogs at puppy mills live their entire lives confined to small cages, without human attention or exercise. These facilities may not always be illegal, but they are usually inhumane, and their puppies are often sick.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, have introduced important legislation to limit the number of breeding dogs a person can possess as well as establish some basic care standards for dogs. These would include providing clean food and water and allowing dogs to leave their cages for at least an hour of exercise each day.

This important legislation is supported by The Humane Society of the United States and the Washington Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies, a coalition of more than 80 member organizations from local humane societies, animal-control agencies and other nonprofit animal-welfare agencies.

Puppy mills constitute a multimillion-dollar industry that dupes puppy buyers with flashy Web sites, official-looking registration papers, empty guarantees and smooth-talking salespeople. Recent investigations conducted by The Humane Society of the United States proved that claims made by pet-store salespeople and on puppy sellers' ads and Web sites are often deceiving. Many puppy mills market puppies through Internet or classified ads, or by posing as small reputable breeders, but buyer beware: Never buy a puppy without personally screening the home where he or she was born and raised.

So what can you do if you would like to share your home with a pet, but don't want to support a puppy mill? Once you've made sure you have the time, space and dedication to provide a dog a lifetime of care and companionship, you can visit your local animal shelter. In today's economic climate, shelters have more pets than ever, including a large variety of purebreds, in need of good homes. These dogs did nothing wrong to wind up where they are, and need only one thing in life: a chance.

Some shelters will keep a waiting list for people seeking a particular breed or species. In addition, private rescue groups exist for almost every breed of dog, as well as other kinds of pets. Visit www.Petfinder.com or www.Pets911.com to look up a shelter or rescue group near you. If you choose to buy your pet from a breeder instead, make sure to visit the breeder's facility in person and see how and where all the dogs are living.

In any event, please let your elected officials know that you want Washington state to crack down on puppy mills. Ask them to support Senate Bill 5651. You can look up your elected officials at humanesociety.org/leglookup. Together we can make puppy mills a thing of the past in Washington state.

Daniel Paul is the Washington state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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