Candidates push for progress in animal welfare

Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation hosted the event.

The Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation invited local state legislative candidates to discuss issues relating to animal welfare on Monday.

The forum primarily focused on issues important to animal owners, including urban and rural dog fighting rings, puppy mills, the regulation of dangerous exotic animals, horse impoundment and providing more money to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Julie Leicht, the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said the purpose of the forum was to educate people on animal welfare issues that face the legislature.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who is running for re-election in Missouri's 19th senatorial District, prescribed several solutions for these issues, including increasing the number of state inspectors to investigate puppy mills, which are facilities used for mass breeding dogs.

"We have a terrible national reputation as the 'puppy mill state,' and we need to make positive progress in that area," Graham said.

Kurt Schaefer, Graham's Republican rival in the race, agreed with Graham on the issue. He said audits conducted on the Missouri Department of Agriculture found the department only inspected a fraction of these facilities.

"A demoralizing attitude toward animals translates into demoralizing attitudes toward humanity," Schaefer said.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, who is running for re-election in the state 24th House District, said he supports strict enforcement of the laws already on the books pertaining to animal abuses.

The candidates were asked if they would support legislation that would protect pet owners from sick animals purchased from puppy mills.

Robb said he would not support such legislation.

"It'd be like putting a value on a death case," Robb said. "I don't understand how people can go out and buy an animal and not know anything about where it came from."

Chris Kelly, the Democratic challenger to the 24th House District seat, was also critical of the idea.

"I think it is a consumer issue," Kelly said. "I don't like it when legislature puts its finger on the scale of the courts. They always screw it up."

Audience members were given a period to ask the legislators prepared questions, in which one audience member asked the candidates if they felt it was necessary for owners of exotic animals to have liability insurance.

Schaefer said he supported the idea and that an "ultra hazardous" animal should have insurance. 

Graham agreed, but he said that an owner of exotic animals should be brought into the discussion to draft a bill.

MAAL legislative director John Coffman said he felt the forum was very successful.

"At a lot of events, you mostly get politicians telling people what they want to hear," Coffman said. "Here, we got to hear some deep probing issues."

Also participating in the forum was Mary Still, the Democratic candidate for the 25th House District seat, and Joe Sadeghi, the Democratic candidate for the state's 21st senatorial District.


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