Will Rogue State Agency Close Animal Shelters?

Mass. Dept. of Agriculture has Conflicts of Interest: DOA Employees In Bed with Dog Breeders

Tom Duggan – May, 2012

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has been targeting and harassing dog “rescues” in Massachusetts for years. They are the state agency in charge of regulation and enforcement of the animal industry it the state.

Dog rescues are generally nonprofit shelters for abused, neglected and homeless dogs. These rescues rely on volunteers to save dogs that are scheduled to be killed in “high kill shelters” in other states. They bring them back to Massachusetts and have a network of animal lovers who agree to: “foster” the dogs temporarily, bringing them to the vet, feed and care for them and make sure they are healthy and safe until a permanent home for them can be found.

These shelters have been and continue to be targeted by the state workers at MDAR because, the shelter supporters say, there is a conflict of interest going on at the rogue state agency where, former dog breeders and current dog breeders as well as those who do business in the dog breeding and pet store industry are actually working at the agency and using the power of the government to put shelters (whom they see as competition) out of business.

Now the dog breeders within the MDAR and pet store lobby have partnered up with state legislators to push a bill that would give the agency full authority to create state regulations and impose them on the shelter industry with no oversight, effectively putting them out of business.

According to “Roll Call”, at issue (among other bills pending) is House Bill 1445 “which was filed by Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton). The bill allows MDAR to create at its sole discretion regulations governing every single aspect of operations of nonprofit animal shelters and rescue organizations.” But breeders, backyard breeders, and pet stores go unregulated.

“They are saying things like, anyone who fosters or adopts a puppy can’t have carpeting? They have to have separate cleaning areas, this is ridiculous,” said one shelter volunteer. How are we going to find people to take in these poor animals when we have to start excluding people who have carpets?” These new rules will ultimately do away with foster homes, which many rescue organizations rely on. In turn, these rescues will have to shut down; the ultimate goal of Kay Khan and Bill 1445.

The volunteers who spoke with The Valley Patriot said they were afraid to be identified in our story. One of whom said that retribution at MDAR was rampant.

“The DOA will shut down my shelter in a heartbeat if you use my name,” she said fearfully. “They are not shy about threatening those who speak out, they are big on retribution. We comply with their demands no matter how unreasonable out of fear,” she said.

A newsletter published by MassFed pushing the passage of House Bill 3650 stats that the “problem” they are trying to address is “Thousands of stray and feral dogs and cats are being imported into Massachusetts by not for profit animal shelters. Animals are coming from Puerto Rico, various other Caribbean Islands and foreign countries. Many of these animals come with tropical diseases including ehrlichia, babesia, resistant strains of giardia, mange, fungus and other diseases. In 2004 one shelter imported a feral puppy from Puerto Rico that tested positive for rabies! Although pet stores are highly regulated, there is currently no regulation of 501(C) 3 private humane shelters that operate as de facto pet stores. Most veterinarians in Massachusetts are not trained to deal with tropical diseases. The situation creates a public health issue.”

But the shelters tell a different story saying that there are no regulations for breeders bringing animals from other states or countries. “It’s nothing but bull, they claim they want to protect Massachusetts from diseases that are brought into the state but it’s just a front. You can go on the internet right now and buy a dog, pick it up at Logan in a few days, and nobody is worried about those dogs brining in diseases. The ultimate goal is to shut down rescues. Period. But if they come out and say that is what they are trying to do, no one will support them. So, they need to lie and say they are doing some type of good for the public interest through legislation. I ask you, read the bill, you can see all the other things they are trying to do to kill us off with endless unnecessary requirements, all the while letting breeders and pet stores go unregulated.”

“It’s no secret what’s going on here,” another shelter volunteer said. “They (people who work at MDAR) are very open about their relationship with the dog breeders and the pet stores. They are vocal about their disdain for what we do because we are eating into their profits. Every time someone adopts a shelter dog they are not buying from a breeder or a pet store. There are people in Agriculture who are current or former dog breeders themselves. They are using our state government to protect and make profits for their own industry,” she said. “What they want is a shelter free state that gives them a monopoly on the animal business. If these bills pass there will be no more rescues or shelters in Massachusetts. The profits of the breeders will skyrocket but it will come at the expense of thousands of puppy’s lives. If we don’t rescue these animals and find them a home they are all dead, end of story.”

Conflicts of Interest

John Kenney, an inspector at the DOA whom The Valley Patriot has received numerous complaints about, is tasked with visiting and inspecting rescues and shelters on behalf of the DOA. Complaints by shelters and rescue volunteers include Kenney’s hostility towards them and cites nonexistent regulations to either shut down or burden the shelters with costs that are so prohibitive they cannot continue to operate.

On its’ website The Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners (MassFed), and the Yankee Siberian Husky Club in Massachusetts have John Kenney listed as a member and he sits on the board.

“He is one of the inspectors that comes into the shelters and starts making up restrictions. There are more, there are many others who have connections to the breeders in one way or another.”

“Let’s talk about the people who filed the bills,” Another shelter manager said.

“Bill H.1445 was filed by Rep. Kay Khan ‘under the direction of Charlotte McGowan (a breeder) and backed by the MassFed of Dog Owners’ all breeders and dog clubs who support everything the rescue community opposes. 

Hill Calls for Uniform Regulations – Says Breeders should have to follow same rules as shelters

State Representative Brad Hill (R) contacted The Valley Patriot about the bill he filed saying he believed that there was some “confusion out there about these bills, it is a complicated issue.”

“I was under the impression there were regulations for breeders. What I want to do is bring all parties together to talk about this issue. We can agree there should be oversight on all folks dealing with animals and that oversight needs to be fair on all sides. I want to create a level playing field. That was the intent of the discussion I have with people on this issue. I’m not in any camp for or against shelters or breeders I am in the camp of protecting the animals and humans.

Hill said he was told by breeders of the problems that arose after Hurricane Katrina where dogs were being brought into the state by shelters that had diseases. He said he was concerned about the need for regulations to keep the dogs healthy.

But Hill admitted he did not know that the regulations on importing dogs from other states or overseas did not apply to dog breeders, pet stores or even ordering a dog on the internet.

“I don’t want to cast stones at anyone from my point of view I want to make sure we have safety in place for everybody. I am a shelter owner. And I can tell you that any dog or cat the Hill family has ever adopted, for my entire life, has been adopted from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem. So I am not against shelters.”

Asked about concerns by the shelter supporters about people working in the MDAR who are former or current dog breeders or connected to the dog breeder industry, Hill said it was something he was “very concerned about.”

“If something like that is happening, that should be of concern to everyone. There are ethics laws that need to be complied with and I would be interested to know more about that. Right now this legislation has seemed to stir the pot and that’s a good thing, that’s the legislative process. If this legislation had not been filed, we wouldn’t be having these conversations and learning things.”

Hill said that he believed that the MDAR already has the right to “promulgate any regulations they want without an action of the legislature. So, some of the things being said about these bills I don’t think are even in the bills.

Hill said he believed that the regulations imposed on shelters should be “uniformly imposed on breeders” but he stopped short of saying he would add language to a current bill or file a separate bill calling for uniform legislation holding breeders to the same standards as shelters.

“It’s something I am certainly interested in looking at,” he said. “What I want is fairness and uniformity. I think we have to make sure that there is room in Massachusetts for shelter dogs and breeders.”

Doing God’s work

Shelters and rescues in Massachusetts operate on a shoestring budget, mostly through private donations and fundraisers.

“You wouldn’t believe the way they kill these poor animals in other states” another rescue volunteer told The Valley Patriot.

“Some of the ways they murder these puppies is so heartbreaking, I want to cry just thinking about it,” she continued. “We go down to these shelters, find the dogs scheduled to be killed, we pay the kill shelters money to adopt them and bring them back to Massachusetts. Once they are here we have to quarantine them for a period, follow an encyclopedia of regulations and place them in foster homes.”

“The difference,” she continued, “is that if you buy a dog on line, you are buying a dog from a puppy mill or a breeder. They don’t have to comply with these ridiculous regulations when they ship dogs to Massachusetts. But that’s because the people who are running the Agriculture Department are dog breeders or involved in the pet industry. You should see the pages and pages of restrictions they put on shelters and rescues, though. It’s discrimination for sure.”

“They treat us like we are the ones who are killing dogs but we are the ones saving puppies and trying to find loving homes for them. Money talks in politics and I think this shows just how much. If Representative Hill really wants uniformity and is not in bed with the breeder industry I expect that he will show it with his actions and file a bill mandating that breeders have to follow the same rules as shelters. For now we are opposing this bill and looking for leadership in the house to stop the MDAR from abusing their authority. We welcome Representative Hill’s backing on that.”

Rep Hill has now become one of the Shelter Industry’s best friends and is working with the shelters to stop the conflicts of interest. 

Follow Up Story: Rep. Brad Hill says he Supported Ban on Devocalization of Dogs