"What really concerns us is that the majority of the commercial dog breeders in Ohio—they were very much in support of SB 130 as it passed," O'Connor-Shaver says.
For the benefit of the Ohio Dog Breeders Association, Miller was heavily involved with the watering down process over the past two years. By the time the bill passed the House, he offered a ringing endorsement.
On Nov. 13, Miller publicly thanked members of the committee for the bill. The legislation was, in a word, a gift.***
Rep. Dave Hall, a Millersburg Republican, is the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. That's the main conduit for all puppy mill talk down at the Statehouse. He's the power broker in the conversations that led to the bill's passage. He's also well funded by groups that favor few regulations and loose enforcement, like the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association. That's, of course, one of the groups standing to benefit most from relaxed regulations.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is the most powerful body in the state when it comes to puppy mill legislation. After getting chewed up in committee for months—and being rewritten at least eight times—it's actually a miracle the bill even came out alive.
Along the way, there were calls from animal protection advocates for Kasich to veto the bill. Even as the committee hearings were under way, supporters of regulations began requesting to restart the process. Some backed away from the bill entirely. Everything meaningful was being derailed, they say. And what appeared to be an open process—a shot at making life a little more pleasant for thousands of dogs across the state—slowly wilted into a dull circus.
Even with passage of the bill, nothing's really set in stone. That would appear to be a good thing for advocates hoping for stronger regulations, but optimism has waned considerably since meetings began at the Statehouse and with the ODA. A large chunk of the bill merely urges the director of the ODA to adopt rules relating to all sorts of things: housing, nutrition, exercise, grooming and more. Well into the bill's life as a law, that hasn't happened. It was a mere suggestion, after all.
Along with those standards for living and care, the law puts into place an inspection process. Again, it's little more than a show. Overseen by an appointee, five inspectors will be expected to branch out across the state to dig deep into Ohio's thousands of kennels. Terry Kline, a veterinarian based out of Orrville, was appointed by ODA to serve as a supervisor of the state's five inspectors. He began meeting with stakeholders, including the Holmes County Commissioners, earlier this year.
Word on the street is Kline's seeming heavy-handedness wasn't going to fly in puppy mill country. Nick Sabo, a writer based outside Wooster, published an article late last month that revealed Kline's intentions to hone in on Holmes County. Kline's quotes were pretty much softball material. "Our inspectors will be bracketed in this area," Kline was quoted as saying, referring to Holmes County and the surrounding areas.
But Kline was abruptly released from duty shortly after the story appeared. He could not be reached for comment by Scene.
Beyond the state's inspectors, the new law urges dog breeders to reel in their local veterinarians to work out the bulk of the kennel inspections. By and large, the theory in action goes, the local vets would be essentially the same ones who have been working alongside the puppy mill industry for years. The idea here is that they'd be tapped to follow through on the state's new formalities.
Given all of those half thoughts on the law's implementation, the public actually did have a month to offer input on the direction throughout June. The ODA filed those comments and passed them along to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, comprised of five state senators and five state representatives. A fine time, it seems, to foster some modicum of debate—a full six months after the law was approved.