RALEIGH — Animal protection activists said Thursday they remained optimistic that legislation regulating large commercial dog breeding in North Carolina can pass soon, even as a key Senate leader has vowed to set it aside this year.
With support from Gov. Pat McCrory and his wife, the House last year passed a measure setting minimum standards for people that keep at least 10 female dogs primarily to breed and sell offspring as pets. But it's gone no further as some dog owners and legislators worry how the bill could affect reputable breeders and ultimately lead to regulating farm animals.
"I'm still hopeful. I think as we educate those who've been opposed, I see some warming up," said Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, the bill's chief proponent in the House. "Legislators just can't continue to ignore it."
Saine watched as dozens of citizens and dogs and owners of the dogs rescued from cruelty at so-called "puppy mills," held a rally and lobbied legislators to pass the bill during the General Assembly session that began this week.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said earlier this year there would be no discussion on the bill during the session after he accused some bill supporters of secretly recording a conversation with a Senate colleague. The recording of Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, had him using coarse language and blasting the governor and first lady Ann McCrory for lobbying for the measure.
"I know past efforts have kind of poisoned the well," Saine said, but "we've got a partner with the governor's mansion that's willing to work on these issues."
McCrory said Wednesday he and his wife would keep working on the measure. "We think the general public is with us," the governor said while releasing his budget. The budget proposes transferring regulation of public and private animal shelters from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Public Safety, which his administration says would enhance enforcement of animal cruelty laws.
The dog breeding measure lays out a dozen specific standards for breeders, including giving dogs access to daily exercise, fresh food and water, shelter and veterinary care. Those who violate the law would face a misdemeanor and fines.
Thursday's event was organized by the North Carolina Shelter Project, of which its members include the Humane Society of the United States. Rescued dogs at the event included Sidney, a Great Dane who was removed from a Wilson County animal shelter with severe injuries but has since recovered.
If standards were in place, "dogs like Sidney wouldn't have wait until they're suffering so badly that it's an emergency," said Humane Society state director Kim Alboum.