By Jennifer Loren, The Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Governor Brad Henry signed puppy mill legislation, known as the Black Market Breeders bill [Senate Bill 1712], into law Thursday.
"And they don't realize that we're up here really fighting for our lives," Gary Phillips, Dog Breeder, said.
For three years dog breeders and animal rights advocates have taken their dogfight to the state capitol, and Thursday, advocates could celebrate.
"We're very excited. It's a big day for dogs in Oklahoma. I think it's high time this community took control of the problem," Christy Counts, Central Oklahoma Humane Society, said.
High-volume breeding operations will now be regulated. The idea is to stop the worst breeding operations, known as puppy mills, from operating in Oklahoma.
Right now, puppy mills can only be stopped when there's evidence of severe animal cruelty.
It's one story after the next with people who are coming over state lines," said Ruth Steinberger, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals. "We have no regulations so we're becoming a default zone."
She released a statement Thursday afternoon:
"The governor's signature signals an enormous victory for local animal advocates who have struggled for these regulations through three legislative sessions. Today marks the end of an era in which puppies could be produced in Oklahoma in filth, misery and darkness and the beginning of an era in which high volume pet breeders will be held accountable as they are in our surrounding states. Oklahomans overwhelmingly oppose animal cruelty and with this signature the majority of Oklahomans have been heard."
But breeders who fought against regulation say the law as its written is unconstitutional.
"I personally believe that what is going on is, maybe well-intended, but the direction that it is going is absolutely off the tracks," Michael Costin, a breeders' lobbyist, said.
But with the Governor's signature, breeders who own 11 or more females will be regulated by a commission. Those breeders will pay a fee and be licensed.
Violators can be fined and charged with misdemeanors.
Plus, breeders will now be required to get a sales tax permit so the Oklahoma Tax Commission can track their sales.
"To good hobby breeders and good commercial breeders it means not that much," Counts said. "But to breeders that are operating in substandard conditions it's going to mean a lot. It means that we're not going to tolerate it anymore as a community."
The new law goes into effect January 1, 2011.