ST. LOUIS Animal rights activists in Missouri said on Thursday that the nation's leading dog breeding state must go ahead with the first ever restrictions on "puppy mills" and ignore efforts to overturn them.
The restrictions, which state voters approved in the election last month by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, limit each breeder to 50 breeding dogs, require dogs to be fed daily, and limits the breeding of animals to no more than twice in 18 months.
Republican state senator Bill Stouffer, along with licensed breeders and the state's agricultural community, opposed the ballot initiative and promised on Wednesday an effort to repeal the measure as soon as possible. They argue that it will force legitimate operations out of business while not doing enough to regulate bad ones.
The measure passed by substantial margins in urban areas of the state but failed in more than 100 of the state's 114 counties. Most of the breeders are in rural areas.
The referendum takes effect January 1 and the next legislative session begins January 5.
"The voters spoke on this issue and we want the legislature to submit to the will of the voters," Barbara Schmitz, a spokeswoman for Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, said in an interview on Thursday.
She said the issue was ignored by lawmakers for two decades and this allowed overcrowding and abuse of dogs.
Missouri leads the nation with nearly 200,000 breeding dogs that produce nearly one million puppies a year, accounting for nearly 40 percent of puppies sold nationwide, according to the U.S. Humane Society.
(Reporting by Bruce Olson; Editing by Andrew Stern and Greg McCune)