Animal Advocacy

Promoting Responsible Dog Ownership – The Canine Good Citizen Program

posted January 15th, 2009 by
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Story by Karen Ohde

Would you like to be a responsible dog owner?  Then consider training your dog for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test (CGC).  This is a  two-fold program that stresses responsible pet ownership and basic good manners for dogs.

Many owners choose the CGC program as their first step in training their dogs.  As you work with your dog to teach the CGC skills, you’ll discover that the training enhances the bond with your dog. Dogs that have a solid obedience education are a joy to live with — they respond well to household routines, have good manners in the presence of people and other dogs, and they enjoy the company of the owner who took the time to provide training, intellectual stimulation and a high quality of life. 

The CGC test consists of 10 different steps that are individually scored by an Evaluator.   The test is non-competitive, unlike formal obedience, so dogs are not required to perform with the same precision.  Each step will be scored as a “pass” or “needs additional work.”  All steps are performed on leash.  A well-fitting buckle or slip collar (including martingales) made of leather, fabric, or chain should be worn by the dog.  The leash should be made of leather or fabric.  Harnesses, head collars and pinch collars are not permitted.


The handlers are welcome to interact with their dogs throughout the test with lots of praise and encouragement.  Giving multiple commands is acceptable but no treats may be used to reward your dog during the test.  

The 10 steps are as follows:


Accepting a friendly stranger

1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger: This test demonstrates the dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler.  

2. Sitting Politely for Petting: This test demonstrates the dog will allow a friendly stranger to touch it while out with its handler.  The dog must show no signs of shyness or resentment.  The dog may not struggle or pull away to avoid petting.

3. Appearance and Grooming: This practical test demonstrates the dog welcomes being groomed and examined and will permit a stranger, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so. This test also demonstrates the owner’s care, concern and sense of responsibility. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition.  The  Evaluator softly brushes the dog and lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot.             


Reaction to another dog


Out for a Walk on a Loose Leash: This test shows the handler is in control of the dog.  The Evaluator directs the handler through a course by calling out instructions.  There must be a right turn, left turn, and  about turn, with at least one halt in between and one at the end of the course.  

5. Walking Through a Crowd: This test demonstrates the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog may show some interest in strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over- exuberance, shyness or resentment.

6. Sit and Down on Command/Staying in Place: This test demonstrates the dog will respond to the handler’s commands.  The dog needs to 1) sit on command 2) down on command and 3) stay as the handler walks to the end of a 20 ft. lead, turns to face the dog, then returns to

Sitting politely for petting

the dog.

7. Coming When Called: With the dog in a sit, down or standing position, the handler walks 10 feet from their dog, turns to face their dog, and  calls their dog. This test does not test “stay” or “wait” but demonstrates that the dog will come when called.  

8. Reaction to Another Dog: Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 15 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries and continue on.  This demonstrates the dog can behave politely around other dogs.

9. Reaction to Distractions: Two distractions are chosen for this test.  One is audible, such as dropping a pan. The other distraction is visual, such as a jogger running in front of the dog.  This demonstrates the dog is confident with distracting situations.

10.  Supervised Separation: This test demonstrates a dog can be left in the presence of a trusted person and will maintain its training and good manners while the owner is out of sight for a three-minute period.     

Dogs of all breeds and mixed breeds can participate in this test.   Dogs with disabilities can take the test but the dog is still required to pass all 10 steps.  Dogs that pass all 10 steps will be listed in the CGC records at the American Kennel Club.  The owners may order an official CGC award certificate from the American Kennel Club.

Handlers with disabilities are also encouraged to participate in the CGC test.  Sometimes a few minor changes are needed to the standard procedures in order to accommodate the handler.

The Canine Good Citizen Program is one of the most rapidly growing programs in the American Kennel Club.  Police and animal control agencies use CGC for dealing with dog problems in the communities, some therapy dogs groups use the CGC program as a partial screening tool, and some 4-H groups around the country have been using the CGC program as a beginning dog- training program for children. 

State legislatures began recognizing the CGC program as a means of advocating responsible dog ownership and 34 states now have a Canine Good Citizen resolution.  To date, Oklahoma is not one of those states but hopefully will be in the near future.

Byline:   Karen Ohde and Vickie Cupps are Certified, AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluators.  They conduct testing at Companion Dog School of Tulsa.  For more information go to their web site,  

Information used in this article was with the permission of Dr. Mary Burch, Director of AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program.

The Oklahoma Early Age Sterilization Celebration

posted October 15th, 2008 by
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By Ruth Steinberger

The August, 2008 Oklahoma Early Age Sterilization Celebration provided a comprehensive view of early age pet sterilization to veterinarians and lay people in the hopes of enlarging the circle of those working to prevent companion animals from producing a “first litter,” a problem which results in the continued tragedy of pet overpopulation throughout our state.

The celebration was sponsored jointly by the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Foundation and Oklahoma Alliance for Animals in order to increase awareness of targeted spay/neuter programs, particularly as veterinarians are asked to offer early age sterilization more and more.
The organizations partnered to bring Dr. Brenda Griffin, Diplomate of the Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine to Oklahoma to present information on early age sterilization of companion animals.

Dr Griffin was joined by 37 veterinarians at a day-long continuing education seminar on the research and protocols for sterilizing pets as young as eight weeks of age.

Three veterinarians who attended the event now provide early age surgeries for humane organizations, that had been releasing intact puppies, to ensure that their shelter pets no longer leave without first being spayed or neutered.

PetSmart Charities, ASPCA, the Zarrow Foundation, SPAY OK and No More Homeless Pets of Norman, OK sponsored this event.

The bottom line is that the park should be a fun place for your dog. If she is stressed or fearful, she won’t be having much fun. She might benefit more from walking at River Parks, or another of Tulsa’s wonderful walking trails.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

posted October 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Ruth Steinberger

“Learning to work smarter, not harder,” is a central theme of the 2008 fall spay/neuter conference in Chicago. 

As a scheduled speaker at the nationwide conference, I’ve reflected on what “Smarter, not harder,” can mean to each of us in animal activism. 

To me, this catchy slogan means maximizing our effectiveness with the resources we have. 

If our goal is to prevent as great a number of animals from suffering as possible, and in our region we see a lot of animals whose lives fall far below the norm, we need to find ways to be as effective as possible with our precious resources.  We must work smarter; most people in animal welfare cannot possibly work much harder than they now do.  

Working smarter means unifying to change some of the fundamental problems affecting dogs and cats in Oklahoma each day, specifically we face some archaic laws, unresponsive or antagonistic elected officials, and chronic, rural poverty.

Working smarter means getting to the root of these problems, assessing how animals are affected, and working to develop the infrastructure that supports humane and logical progress on animal welfare issues.  

We cannot stretch the minutes in the day, money, mileage, nor space in order to respond to each crisis that comes our way without asking why tragedy often seems to be the norm and not an aberration. As State Outreach Coordinator for Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, in the last month I have gotten e-mails or calls from people trying to find out how to report substandard breeders, a fraudulent rescue, two hoarder cases and more. 

Oklahoma has the largest network for helping low-income homes get pets spayed or neutered in the Midwest, thanks directly to a caring network of veterinarians, leadership from our participating animal welfare groups and the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, an organization which deserves immense credit. There are dozens of great rescue organizations.  But in our capitol, Oklahoma based animal welfare organizations are virtually silent.  

How many of us have communicated directly with our state legislators about our passion about animal welfare, or our opposition or support for a certain bill, or even to thank an official? Indeed, many people do not even know who their representatives are. 

We have all called for enforcement of the existing anti-cruelty and neglect laws, most of us support regulations to address puppy mills and fraudulent rescue organizations and we all wonder out loud why animal abandonment is so prevalent. We pick up the pieces, but we are not addressing why there are so many crises to respond to.

A seemingly disconnected hodge-podge of tragedies are no accident; they are predictable outcomes of a few outdated state laws, some elected officials who apparently presume that animal welfare advocates either do not exist or do not vote, and poverty that affects services throughout our state, with a less-than-minimal trickle down for the animals. 

The good news is that we can start to address this each time we go to the polls. 

Working smarter means getting to the root of the problems, and unifying to change them. 

A little known Oklahoma law under Title 21 states that only counties with populations exceeding 200,000 may establish county-run animal shelters or pass county- wide animal welfare codes. (This law pertains only to counties; cities and towns may establish such shelters. Only four counties meet this population base in the state). 

Several attempts have been made to change this law, only to be shot down through lobbying on behalf of county governments.  

In the 2008 general session, HB 3279 was introduced to eliminate the 200,000 population restriction. The bill was defeated in the Oklahoma senate. If you are involved in rural humane activities, ask your representatives how they voted on this matter.  Then ask the other candidate how they feel about it. If an official voted against this law, maybe they pleased a lobbyist; let them know if they didn’t please you. 

Additionally, due to an exemption from Oklahoma’s humane euthanization laws, and a 1990 court decision in Garvin County, it is considered lawful for municipalities with a population fewer than 10,000 to euthanize dogs and cats by shooting.  

Responding to animal welfare complaints is difficult for many agencies because according to the US Department of Justice our level of certified rural law enforcement is just over half the national average level of staffing; predictably animal welfare takes a back seat. 

Why are we in a mess? This all combines to mean that an Oklahoma county with a population under 200,000 may not establish a county animal shelter, is not required to pass a spay/neuter ordinance, nor enact a tag law. At the same time, the small towns and cities within that county may shoot the unfortunate animals that enter its shelter. Few rural shelters adhere to the 1986 Dog and Cat Sterilization Act which mandates that animals originating from shelters be spayed or neutered. And finally, due to staffing it is difficult for law enforcement to respond to animal welfare complaints.  

We cannot collect each abandoned animal as it hits the dirt. Without comprehensive solutions, we will face the same problems a decade from now. 

The mess we are in is glaring. 

With the exception of Mary Fallin (R-Distinct 5), Oklahoma’s congressmen voted against the Animal Fighting Prohibition Act, which was signed into law on May 3, 2007. Dan Boren (D-2nd District), Tom Cole (R-4th District), Frank Lucas (R-3rd District), and John Sullivan (R-1st District), sided with dog fighters at the expense of companion animals and the communities they live in. Our vote, our opinion and common decency meant nothing to them. 

Citing the ridiculous fear that addressing animal fighting would ultimately abridge gun rights, Dan Boren equated strengthening the law with a threat to Oklahoma’s sporting traditions; he sided with criminals rather than be seen as soft on animals. 

Surely the dog fighters, drug dealers and gang bangers did not call to ask for their support, our representatives simply thought our vote did not matter and didn’t give the animals a second thought.    

Fortunately, our legislators did not prevail; shortly after passage of that bill, that law alone closed down Michael Vicks’ Bad Newz Kennel.

We may drive a hundred miles to pick up a rescue dog, but we will not change things until we’re willing to drive those same miles to meet with our legislators.  That official’s vote affects significantly more animals than we will ever come to know. 

Can we succeed? Over three decades ago, a group of angry mothers recognized that while they got sympathy cards when they lost loved ones to drunk drivers, the law enforcement response was dismissive at best. Through demanding appropriate response by public officials, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has turned drunk driving into the most serious driving offense one can commit. 

Animals should not have to suffer until someone intervenes individually on their behalf. If we set our sights on prevention through organizing, rather than continued intervention after the fact, we will help a lot more animals and use a lot less resources.  

Working smarter means electing officials that heed the call to do the right thing.  Oklahoma lawmakers cannot continue to presume that we don’t matter, or even worse, that we don’t care. We care a lot. Our vote can turn the tide around.

Animal Hoarding

posted July 15th, 2008 by
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What It Is and What Communities Can Do To Halt It…

Shocking stories of homes with sometimes hundreds of animals, languishing in filth and starvation, make headlines with increasing frequency. While the public expresses shock and newspapers blame social conditions resulting in excess animals, few people understand the dynamics of hoarding, a mental illness that results in horrific animal neglect, and often poses health risks to the people around it.

Randall Lockwood, PhD, Senior Vice President, Anti-cruelty Initiatives and Legislative Services of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a leading veterinary forensics researcher and an authority on animal hoarding. Lockwood defines hoarding as, “People who have more animals than they can reasonably care for and the conditions under which they are kept have deteriorated to the point of endangering the health of the animals involved, but also conditions affect the caretaker and others in the household.” He explained, “Hoarding does not simply depend on the number of animals that someone has. The key characteristics are in the conditions in which the animals are kept.” 

Formerly called, ‘animal collectors,’ a term which may denote collection of valuable items like stamps or cars, hoarders confine animals in filth, often in uncomfortably small cages, underfed and dehydrated although food and water are on the premises; dead or dying animals are often found on the premises as well. Hoarding is diagnosed as an obsessive, compulsive disorder. 

Lockwood said, “When we do training we tell officers to take pictures of the food—a characteristic of a hoarder is to have food on the premises that is not fed to the animals, while they literally starve. There will often be medications on the site, also unused or even bottles unopened.” 

Many hoarders share a phobia of death. If not stopped, hoarding is usually fatal for at least some of the victims. It is not unusual to find carcasses of the victims in their freezer. 

There is no single condition that produces hoarding, and a different mental diagnosis may result in hoarding behavior, but Lockwood said, “Most hoarders are of average or above average intelligence, many are of care-giving professions including teachers, nurses, veterinarians, social service workers, doctors—the majority are women who are over 65, but there are many variations.” Because the person may have been in a care-giving profession, in about 25% of animal hoarding cases, other dependent individuals, including an elderly parent, are endangered as well. 

Typical hoarding conditions

A key characteristic is that the hoarder seems oblivious to the suffering. Lockwood said, “They are in denial. You walk into the house and there are inches, or even feet of feces and there are even dead animals there, you can barely catch your breath, and they think there is nothing wrong.  This is a psychological condition.” 

The majority of hoarded animals are cats and dogs, but all other species become victims as well.  

Lockwood has seen a dramatic upsurge in the number of hoarders who pose as rescue organizations. He said, “We used to characterize around 15% of the hoarder cases as so-called ‘rescue hoarders.’ I think that number has grown, partly in response to the No-Kill pressures. The foundation of that philosophy, in many cases, supports hoarders; legitimate organizations have unknowingly supplied hoarders with pets to get them out of their shelters in order to lower their euthanasia rates.”  

Lockwood said, “Close to one third of the hoarding cases now are rescue hoarders.” 

Lockwood gave tips for recognizing hoarders in your community. He said, “Suspect hoarding if a person or rescue will only receive animals at a location away from their facility, such as a parking lot. Another warning sign is if they only receive animals only at strange hours, so you simply do not expect to go past the front door. As with visiting a breeder, if you visit a rescue facility and cannot see how the animals are maintained, that is probably not a legitimate operation. The other characteristic is that the animals go in but do not go out, they keep accumulating animals. They often have no idea of how many animals they have and may express shock that it, “Got out of hand.”  

Lockwood said some hoarders have tried to explain the presence of dead and dying animals by calling themselves hospices, and usually explain the condition of at least some of the animals as having cancer. Lockwood pointed out that even if an animal is sick, legitimate animal hospices do not have animals lying in their own filth, dying of neglect.  

What can a community do to prevent hoarding? A community-based hoarder prevention task force is the best approach. Lockwood said, “We recommend bringing together the groups that are likely to encounter hoarders, including animal control, humane organizations, adult protective services, mental health, the police department and the prosecutor. If hoarding is detected in an early enough stage, you can try to initiate intervention if you have the staffing resources. It is unrealistic to expect a small, private humane organization to go into a situation which includes a serious mental health problem, a zoning issue, and more, and take action without back up.”

When asked if pet limits help, Lockwood responded, “There is a lot of resistance to pet limits, however they can be a good tool for monitoring the hoarder. We do see more and more prosecutions for animal cruelty because it allows the court to impose a long probationary period in order to provide for monitoring.” The pet limit can be the impetus for the initial call to the site.

An action plan is vital and a high volume hoarder is almost like a natural disaster. Lockwood said, “You need a chain of command and a plan to handle the crisis. The emphasis should be on relapse prevention. Hopefully the hoarder will sign over the care, however the greatest fear of most hoarders is that their animals will be seized and put to sleep, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because as conditions deteriorate that becomes the most humane thing that can be done. You want to initiate a response before that happens. Monitoring should be part of the plan.”

Lockwood notes that hoarders share common characteristics wherever they are. “We see this all around the country and indeed all around the world.”  He hopes that through education and outreach, hoarders can be prevented from starting their destructive behavior.

Story by Ruth Steinberger

Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund

posted July 15th, 2008 by
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Saving lives with the help of the Tulsa Community Foundation’s “Charity of Choice” 

A couple of years ago, Andrew and Tracy Turner lost their beloved Bekah, a four-year-old German Shepherd, when tragedy struck.  The absence of Bekah’s presence within their daily lives inspired the Turners to take action in order that other individuals might be spared the devastating loss of a loved pet.  As their first project, they are providing local fire departments with pet rescue oxygen masks to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation in house fires.

Nearly every house fire involves smoke inhalation.  The best treatment for smoke inhalation is the quick and efficient delivery of oxygen.  Since nearly every home also includes pets, many pet lives can be saved when oxygen can be effectively delivered.  Saving pets’ lives in house fires is not only good for the pets and their owners, but it also improves fire fighter morale.  However, oxygen masks for pets generally retail at $200 per set and are extra equipment which many fire departments simply cannot fund.  

The Turners herein recognized a noble cause which could give some measure of meaning to Bekah’s untimely loss.

Desiring to create a non-profit charity, the Turners contacted Tulsa Community Foundation, an organization that is involved in charitable giving at every level of the community as well as working with individuals and families.  Andrew and Tracy created and funded Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund personally but have since held fundraising events and received charitable donations to expand the reach of the charitable activities of their Donor Advised Fund.  

The Turners next found an animal oxygen mask distributor in Florida who would sell them the reusable flexible-flange mask sets, which come in three sizes for small snouts to large snouts, for a non-profit price of $75 per set (  These masks fit a large range of animals from all sizes of dogs and cats, to birds and other exotics as well.  Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund has subsequently provided the masks to all the Tulsa County Fire Departments, the Owasso Fire Department, Bixby Fire Department, Northwestern Rogers County Fire Protection District (in Oologah), and all the fire departments in Pittsburg County (through a grant of equipment to the Pets Are Working Saints, PAWS, group in McAlester) and they are currently working with Stillwater, Broken Arrow, and Sand Springs.  

The Owasso Fire Department put their masks to use within the first few days when they were called to a mid-morning house fire where all the humans were gone from the home and several pets suffered smoke inhalation.  Owasso Fire Chief Brad Clark states that the rescue of a small dog at that residence allowed firefighters to experience a positive outcome in an otherwise awkward situation.  Just one week prior, the fire fighters had responded to the overnight fire at the One Stop Pet Shop where a number of animals died of smoke inhalation when an over-night fire had gone undetected and self-extinguished when the aquarium burst.  The damage was discovered by the store manager upon opening the following morning and he immediately called for fire department assistance.

Chief Clark states, “The Owasso Fire Department now has the tools necessary to sustain life until the victim can reach professional care and that is very cool.  We are well-equipped to manage human traumas but animals require a different level of support and equipment is very expensive.  This project deserves recognition for their genuinely right intentions.  Saving pets who are also members of a family is pretty big and certainly one thing that cannot be replaced.”  Likewise, Dr. Chris Kelley of the Small Animal Hospital of Owasso and who also treated many of the One Stop Pet Shop animals, states, “We are very excited about the oxygen masks being provided by Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund to local fire departments.  These masks give animals suffering from smoke inhalation a much greater chance of survival.”

Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund is the first entity in the Tulsa area working to provide pet rescue oxygen masks free of cost to local fire departments.  The Turners hope to get the oxygen masks in the equipment lockers of every fire department in Northeastern Oklahoma and in doing so, hope to encourage other communities across the country to do the same.  Donations can be made to:  Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund, c/o Tulsa Community Foundation, 7030 South Yale Avenue, Suite 600, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74136.  All donations are tax-deductible.  For more information please email:  [email protected] or jwolfki[email protected] 

In addition to Bekah’s Helping Paw Fund, Tulsa Community Foundation (TCF) donors have made grants throughout Oklahoma and other parts of the United States to assist various animal welfare organizations.  Over the past 12 months, TCF has supported organizations such as Best Friends Animal Society, H.E.L.P. Animals, Inc., Washington County SPCA, Humane Society of the United States, Animal Aid of Tulsa, Tulsa SPCA, Morris Animal Foundation, Forrest and Jenny’s Place, Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center, Humane Society of Tulsa, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, Spay Oklahoma, Inc., Animal Rescue and Kare, Developmental Wings and its partnership with a therapeutic riding center near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and the American Therapeutic Riding Center in Sand Springs, which has a marvelous center for children, youth and adults with disabilities.  In particular, the therapeutic riding is a win-win, with the horses assisting children and families while the riders in turn give the horses a sense of pride and purpose.

Recognizing that we can all do more working together than is possible individually, Tulsa Community Foundation maintains a goal to assist donors to accomplish their charitable objectives in the most effective and efficient manner.  TCF is a tax-exempt, public charity organized in 1998 to be a recognized, community-owned organization that initiates, teaches and encourages personal and corporate charitable giving today to ensure that the philanthropic needs of Oklahomans can be met for all generations.  Tulsa Community Foundation is the largest community foundation in America.  Please visit their website at for more information.

Story by Carolyn Arkison


House Bill 3192

posted April 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Ruth Steinberger

The bill died in committee on February 18 without even being heard by the Oklahoma House Ag Committee. Many Oklahomans question this outcome, which was immediately condemned by the Tulsa World. 

Puppy producers that sell wholesale, (through dog brokers, dog auctions, etc), are required to be licensed through the USDA, as either Class A or Class B dealers. Breeders that sell directly to the public, either through the internet, flea markets or local advertisements, are exempted from federal licensing and remain unregulated in Oklahoma.  

High volume dog breeders, along with substandard facilities often called ‘puppy mills,’ are rapidly on the rise in Oklahoma.  Confusion surrounds this often secretive industry, which has grown dramatically in the last five years here; Oklahoma now ranks second in the nation in the number of licensed high volume breeders, with an increase of over 70% since 2000.  

According to the USDA, Oklahoma has 12.3% of the total number of USDA licensed pet producing facilities nationwide, with over 600 breeders located here.  The number of unlicensed facilities in Oklahoma is estimated to be two to three times that number.

All other states with a large number of high volume dog producers have state regulations to cover facilities not regulated by the USDA. 

In fact, although a total of five states, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, produce over 65% of the nation’s mass produced puppies, 26 states actually govern the care and selling of producing dogs. In Oklahoma, unless federally licensed, pet producers operate under no regulations at all.

The term ‘puppy mills’ generally refers to substandard high volume puppy (or kitten) producers that turn out animals under very poor conditions, with no regard for animal welfare, the health of the puppies or the consumers who buy them.  While the USDA licensed high volume facilities are expected to meet minimum regulations, the picture for many dogs that are in unlicensed facilities is grim.  

The overwhelming numbers of animal neglect complaints regarding high volume breeders lodged with law enforcement, state agencies or humane societies in Oklahoma do not involve facilities that are USDA inspected. This means they are not compelled to follow any regulations. 

Additionally, during the last two years, over 600 dogs have been removed from facilities posing as rescues. Despite even having non-profit status, these facilities have allowed animals to starve or be used for breeding; an Oklahoma County individual that claimed to be rescuing Pit Bull dogs was actually tied to a dog fighting operation. This bill would have created minimum standards for private shelters and rescues, including regulations for cleanliness and record keeping. 

Many breeding dogs in substandard facilities languish in tiny cages, and in filth. To save money on the cost of housing dogs, puppy mill kennels can consist of anything from small cages made of wood and wire mesh, to tractor-trailer cabs or simple tethers attached to trees.  Cages stacked on top of each other mean that urine and feces run down from one cage onto the one below. It is not uncommon for dogs in these facilities to be blinded by the ammonia burns to their eyes. 

Deborah Howard, President of CAPS, a Massachusetts based organization dedicated to halting puppy mills, said, “Puppy mills operate like a business, except instead of car parts or shampoo, the “goods” are puppies to be sold to consumers.   Much like any other business, there are three basic operating principals; the increase of goods, the decrease of costs, and the maximization of profits.  In puppy mills dogs are bred for quantity, not quality.  As a direct result, breeders, brokers, and pet stores ensure maximum profits by not spending money for proper food, housing, or veterinary care.”

Normal veterinary care is often completely lacking; hiding the truth of their practices, some operators of these facilities have advised customers to avoid veterinarians.  Many substandard facilities perform their own C-sections on female dogs unable to give birth on their own.

When the dogs are no longer able to produce puppies, terrified dogs are sold at the growing number of auctions in our state, with an older dog barely bringing a dollar or two to a greedy seller who will not give the dog a humane end because it would cost money to euthanize the dog.  

Indeed, Oklahoma’s lack of regulations makes our state a haven for those who cannot pass regulations enacted elsewhere. As regulations have tightened in New York and Pennsylvania, estimates are that the number of unregulated breeders that have flocked to Oklahoma in recent years may make us number one in unlicensed facilities. The toll includes consumer issues, fraud, animal neglect and health issues involving untested and unvaccinated dogs. As a cash crop, Oklahoma loses out on the tax revenue in most cases. 

Tara Beres, Director of Safe Haven Center in Midwest City, has assisted in the rescue of puppy mill dogs for the past two years.  Referring to HB 3192, the Pet Quality Assurance Act, Beres noted, “There is no reason that this bill did not pass. The regulations were based on USDA regulations, and those are weaker than most Oklahomans would tolerate if they knew the truth. This bill gave an edge to those that were already licensed as they already meet the criteria, and were exempted from inspections. It’s hard to imagine what happened.” 

With no time to garner support for the bill, the 17 month effort to draft a comprehensive, effective and fair bill died a quiet death in the OK House Ag committee. Many Oklahomans wonder why. Two minor activities reveal that Oklahomans who support humane treatment of dogs and cats used for production need to become vocal now in order to be heard next year. 

The AKC (American Kennel Club) is required to inspect facilities housing AKC-registered dogs that produce seven or more litters in one year.  A January 23, 2008, e-mail from Oklahoma AKC inspector Stacy Mason alleged that USDA standards are too restrictive, and that following the regulations compromised breeders who already exceed the regulations.   Mason’s complaints included excessive fees. However, HB 3192 proposed a licensing fee of $25, while AKC facility inspections start at $250 per inspection. Her plea ended with a sample letter to send to legislators entitled, ‘Kill the bill.’  

The AKC communications office has not responded to calls about inspector Mason’s e-mails. 

Weeks before the legislative session the Humane Society of the United States was advised that a knee jerk reaction from certain legislators could negatively impact the bill and were asked to remain out of the issue as other national groups were doing. Within days of being advised that this legislation could not withstand being tied to their overall agenda, HSUS announced their legislative lobbying day, which was actually noted as impacting the bill by a committee member. Although the day was planned as a national event, HSUS refused the request to cancel the Oklahoma day when advised that it would likely backfire on legislation as has been alleged to have occurred elsewhere. 

Exactly what happened is unknown. The actions by the AKC representative and HSUS are minor but they make it clear that it will take a strong collective voice by Oklahomans about a substandard industry that is giving a black eye to our state and is costing us in the ways that any clandestine industry will do. 

Beres again said that the issue cannot be the wording of the bill but a fear of inspection at all. She referred to the USDA regulations, which stipulate that a dog must have space that equals its length from nose to base of tail, plus six inches, times the same amount of space, plus six inches of head room. This means that an average sized beagle may spend its life in a cage that is around 32” by 32”.  

Beres continued, “Just a few breeders came up with phantom problems with the bill that amounted to fabrications. The fact is that if these regulations scared you, there is something very wrong with the way you are doing things. At one point, they said they wanted to use education to reach people who are doing things wrong. How do you educate people that keeping a dog in filth, often in sheds with no lighting, inadequate diet and no veterinary care is not nice?”

She concluded, “One thing is for certain, very few Oklahomans who are not dog breeders approve of the industry the way it is, and even fewer of those who have purchased poor quality puppies want to see it remain unregulated.” 

Many people are asking why these facilities are leaving other states to come here, and even some breeders who have invested heavily to build kennels in Oklahoma would like to see the movement of substandard kennels to Oklahoma slowed, as it brings low-end competition into the mix.  

Charles Helwig, DVM, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association said, “The Pet Quality Assurance Act, which is HB 3192, is an important step in regulating the commercial kennels in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is one of the largest producing states for puppies and kittens, yet does not have any state regulations. This legislation is a consumer protection bill that is needed to address consumer complaints and animal welfare.” Helwig encouraged citizens who are concerned about this issue to contact legislators to make their voices heard.