By Mannix Porterfield
For the Daily Telegraph
CHARLESTON — Five years ago, a former Miss West Virginia embarked on a crusade to put commercial dog breeders on a leash.
Everyone was eager to meet the one-time beauty queen, many posing for pictures with her, but few seemed willing to consider Summer Wyatt’s plea to regulate the so-called “puppy mills.”
There were highs and lows, the bill getting through this committee, then that, passing one chamber, dying in another.
Then came the pinnacle of success Friday — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed SB437, a bill that finally cleared both chambers, although there was some drama in the House of Delegates near the end of the session.
“It is definitely an unbelievable and wonderful feeling,” said Wyatt, the state director of the Humane Society of the United States.
“I’m looking forward to working with law enforcement in each county on enforcement of all the bill’s provisions. We have a lot of work ahead, but this piece of legislation allows for us to begin the work to save so many lives.”
Wyatt made essentially the same pitch to lawmakers in every session — that pups have been mistreated in shoddy conditions.
At least one lawmaker, Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, provided a personal glimpse by revealing how he made arrangements to purchase a pup only to be told the transaction had to be made at a remote location. He was barred from entering the premises to see the pup’s parents or other canines.
When he fetched the dog, even after some scrubbing, it continued to reek of feces.
Under the historic legislation, not all dogs raised by breeders fall under state regulation.
Excluded are those raised for hunting, tracking, guarding livestock (such as border collies), showing, field trials and greyhound breeders that are registered with the West Virginia Racing Commission.
“Breeds aren’t specified,” Wyatt emphasized. “It will be based on what they are selling the dogs for.”
Originally, the bill specified a range of dogs that would be included, but the final version that Tomblin approved doesn’t contain either a minimum or maximum.
Wyatt has said it isn’t known just how many breeders operate in West Virginia, since they aren’t regulated.
In a related vein, the governor also signed legislation that creates a spay/neuter fund financed by donations by the pet food industry. The idea is to deal with stray dogs and feral cats that are a nuisance in many parts of West Virginia, imposing a burden on animal shelters.
After one committee sent the bill out with its blessing, Wyatt said it is “definitely worth the effort.”
“We have a piece of legislation that can help thousands of animals and set a precedent for standards of care for thousands more,” she had reflected.