Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Legal Definition of "Puppy Mill"

Is there truly a legal definition of "puppy mill" as some animal rights fanatics claim? Julian Prager explains below that there is NO definitive legal definition of this term!

A number definitions of the term "puppy mill" have been suggested, including "a place where puppies are bred for profit" (www.dictionary.com) and "a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary - 2nd edition). However it is worded, those who use the term usually claim it is an abusive and cruel place and that the legal definition applies in the jurisdiction involved.

The term "puppy mill" is not generally defined in state law as it applies in abuse or cruelty cases. That is the most significant issue with the use of the definition. They write as if "puppy mill" has a definition for abuse and cruelty purposes. It generally does not. While the definition cited in Avenson v. Zegart states that health is disregarded to re duce overhead and maximize profits, it does not say the dogs are found to be unhealthy. Under the definition provided, dogs may be healthy and sound, although they are not provided with the care we all would want and expect our dogs to have.

If the dogs are healthy, sound and well care-for, by whatever objective standard is used, then there is no cruelty or abuse unless the frequency of health checks is required in the state cruelty law. Some states do require annual or semi-annual vet examinations for large scale breeding operations. Most don't - in those states, the frequency of vet visits is not directly relevant to any finding of abuse, although it may be evidentiary depending on other factors.

The issue in Avenson v. Zegart was a narrow one in a case for summary judgment in federal courts. Although the narrow standard for summary judgment was not met, the court did stated that there may be to rt remedies available in state court. It is unclear from the language of the decision whether the federal court was adopting the definition or merely using the definition provided by the humane society. In either case, this would not be controlling precedent in other federal or state courts. Some courts have adopted this definition in other districts, but usually not in cases of abuse or cruelty. For example, it has been used to determine whether a request for discovery was sufficiently clear for the parties to understand what was asked for.

Until there is a legal definition that applies throughout out country, the definition is, at best, ambiguous and competes for legitimacy with other made-up definitions of the term "puppy mill." As the riddle apocryphally attributed to Abraham Lincoln points out this fallacy: "Question: How many legs has a sheep if you call a tail a leg? Answer: Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one." Let's not make that mistake here.

Julian Prager

"Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced." Albert Einstein

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