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Dog breeder unhappy after getting state notices designed for puppy mills

(February 22, 2019) — Dog breeder Cathy Talik has been raising miniature schnauzers for more than 20 years.

She provides customers with healthy, show-quality dogs and an alternative to shopping mass breeders or large pet-store chains, says the 75-year-old from London, west of Columbus.

But Talik says the combination of two Ohio laws aimed at illegal and inhumane breeding practices is threatening the business that she runs with her husband, Mike.

Senate Bill 331, which became law in 2016, regulates dog sales and licensed pet stores. The measure defines a pet store as any individual retailer who sells dogs to the public, excluding animal shelters and humane societies. This vague definition inadvertently lumps hobby breeders, such as Talik, with national retailers such as Petland, she says. To keep her business, Talik must register as a pet store and pay a $500 licensing fee, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s website.

“If they put me out of business, they put me out of business. If they want me to stand before a judge and fine me $10,000, I’m going to refuse to pay that, too. They can put me in jail if they think this is worthy of going to jail for,” Talik said.

A 2018 law, House Bill 506, revised regulations for high-volume dog breeders — those who sell five or more adult dogs to businesses, or 40 or more puppies directly to the public in one year — and pet stores, which prompted the Agriculture Department to notify breeders suspected of violating the code. However, the bill was not intended to target hobby breeders, according to an email from the office of Sen. Brian Hill, the bill’s primary sponsor, to a concerned breeder.

“Sen. Hill introduced the bill to address bad actors in the dog-breeding industry in Ohio,” the email said. “In no way did the senator want to infringe on the activities of small-scale breeders who are private citizens.”

Representatives for Hill, a Zanesville Republican, said the office would discuss implementation of the law with the Agriculture Department, and he would seek new legislation to prevent “future administrations from misinterpreting the language.” However, in an email to The Dispatch, Hill contended that his bill is not the cause of the issue, rather it is the fault of the 2016 legislation.

The agriculture agency “has been working diligently to notify Ohioans who might fall under the regulations and to help them become compliant with Ohio law, if applicable,” a department spokesman said. “Our goal is to safeguard the health of animals that enter the marketplace and to educate and help people comply with the proper rules and regulations.”

Talik and fellow breeder Pam Peterson from Moscow, southeast of Cincinnati, who also received notices from the Agriculture Department, refuse to pay the licensing fee because they don’t want their businesses to be synonymous with what they contend are cruel pet store practices.

“I’ve never shipped a puppy — ever. I meet the parents,” Talik said, referring to a common practice of puppy mills and national pet store chains. “If they put people like me out of business, people are going to go, probably, buy them overseas.”

Both women said that shutting down reputable, by-the-book breeders might mean potential pet owners would buy from unethical puppy mills or retailers, keeping inhumane operations viable.

“I’m not a pet store,” Peterson said. “I’ve been against pet stores this whole time. … I would write that $500 check in the bat of an eye if I thought it would help shut down the puppy mills. But they aren’t.”