A bill approved during the final days of the 2006 Iowa Legislature is now creating quite a controversy, pitting dog breeders against animal rights activists. The bill would allow breeders and pet shops to classify dogs as farm products, making them eligible for a tax break on the supplies used to raise dogs.
Rob Hurd, owner of “Precious Pets” in Carlisle, says it’s a tax break that farmers and manufacturers enjoy everyday. Hurd says licensed dog kennels must charge state sales tax when they sell a puppy, and must pay state sales tax on the feed, veterinary supplies, utilities and other items they buy to raise dogs.
Hurd is a member of the Iowa Federation of Animal Owners which fought for the bill and is now asking Governor Tom Vilsack to sign it into law. “The pet industry in the state of Iowa is a very huge industry,” Hurd says. “We’re part of, nationally, a $35- or $36-billion industry. Iowa is ranked in the top four or five pet-producing states in the country. We’re known for quality puppies. We want to legitimize the fact that our industry is part of agriculture.”
But groups like the Humane Society argue the bill sets a bad precedent of listing dogs and livestock in the same sentence. Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, says cows, pigs and other “livestock” are not provided the same protections as dogs are under the state’s animal cruelty laws.
Colvin says “if suddenly that line is going to get blurred” then the state will have to look at the livestock industry “entirely differently.” That’s just what the Iowa Cattleman’s Association is afraid of. The Cattlemen’s Association does not want dogs to be considered livestock.
But Amana dog breeder Joe Gerst says opponents are “misinformed.” Gerst says they’re talking about giving the tax break to licensed dog breeders, not “puppy mills.” “We’re not still back in the 1980s. Regulations have come a long way,” he says. Gerst says the public has demanded “good, healthy” puppies and dog breeders have responded, “They are produced in good conditions,” Gerst says. “I don’t know of too many livestock operations, for instance, that are air conditioned.”
But Colvin from the Animal Rescue League isn’t convinced by that argument. “We’re talking about building a puppy-producing industry and that’s a really hard thing for animal shelters like the Animal Rescue League to accept because we’re overflowing with unwanted dogs and puppies at the current time,” Colvin says. “Any talk of making it an even bigger industry says to us: more unwanted dogs and puppies.” County zoning officials are also lobbying against the bill.
Marshall County Planning and Zoning director John Kunc says large dog kennels require a special permit which gives neighbors a chance to weigh in before the permit’s granted, and the business starts. “County zoning officials are concerned that it’s possible that through this language…(dog breeders) would eventually then be able to claim that agricultural exemption and the public would not be able to make comment when these types of facilities are being proposed,” he says.
Dog breeders could find that skipping the permit process is a double-edged sword, according to Kunc, because while they’d no longer need approval from the government, they’d be more vulnerable to nuisance lawsuits. The governor’s staff held meetings earlier this week with all the parties lobbying for and against the bill. The governor, who has been out of town this week in Israel, must decide whether to sign or veto the legislation by June 2nd.