AKRON — Nearly three weeks after a new law requiring all dog-rescue operations in Ohio to register with the state, only a fraction have taken that step, a Beacon Journal inquiry has determined.
The Commercial Dog Breeders Act, which the Ohio legislature approved in 2012, mainly was designed to regulate dog-breeding operations, with the goal of improving the lives of animals in facilities commonly called “puppy mills.”
High-volume dog breeders in the state — anyone who sells more than 60 dogs or has nine or more litters in a calender year — were required to register with the Ohio Department of Agriculture by Jan. 1.
Generally, the law prohibits a person from acting as a dog retailer in Ohio without a state license.
Also tucked inside the measure known as Senate Bill 130, however, was a requirement that every dog-rescue operation in Ohio register with the state agriculture department, as well.
There is no charge for a group to be licensed, but there was a flurry of objections from dog rescuers who resent state oversight, said Martha Leary of Star-Mar Rescue in Wooster, an affiliate program of Rescue Alliance.
“Some organizations are scared of possible inspection, and rightfully so, and some honestly feel that the law doesn’t pertain to them,” she said.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has sent out hundreds of letters to known rescues organizations telling them they had to comply, said Ms. Leary, who helped write the language used in Senate Bill 130.
The law describes a rescue as one that cannot operate for profit, sell dogs for a profit, breed dogs, or purchase more than nine dogs in a calendar year unless they come from a shelter, animal warden, humane society, or another animal rescue.
Though the law took effect March 13, 2013, rescues were granted an extension for registration until Jan. 1, 2014.
However, two weeks after that revised deadline for registration has passed, only 39 rescues were operating legally in the six-county Beacon Journal readership area, according to state records.
No one has a complete count of the rescue groups operating in the area, but Petfinder.com estimates the number in Ohio at between 400 and 500.
“This is not uncommon with regulating programs starting from scratch,” said Erica Hawkins, communications director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The law states that if a complaint is filed against an unregistered rescue, the director of the agriculture department will send in a state-appointed inspector to determine if it has merit.
The state will work with the rescue to bring it into compliance. Any member of the public may make a complaint.
Rescues that refuse to comply with the law and fail to register will be fined, Ms. Hawkins said.
Enforcement of the registration law rests with the director, but dog wardens and humane society agents are required by law to report any rescues that are unregistered when they become aware of it.
A group’s tax-exempt status has no bearing on whether it is required to register. All nonprofit charitable animal rescues must register to operate legally in Ohio, said Ms. Leary, who served on an ad-hoc committee for seven years before Senate Bill 130 was approved.
“In fact, what we’re finding is happening is that the ones that are not tax-exempt are the ones most likely not to register. They are putting their name and address on a state list admitting to running a business for which they may not be paying any taxes on the income. Imagine if you’ve been doing this for years,” Ms. Leary said.
While it is illegal for a rescue to operate without a license from the state, there is “nothing in our law that precludes” those rescues to continuing to collect donations from the public that might not be aware the rescue is breaking the law, Ms. Hawkins said.
Animal rescue groups can find an application for registration at www.agri.ohio.gov/. Click on “Divisions,” then “Animal Health,” then “Commercial Dog Breeders Act.” For more information, the agriculture department can be reached at 614-728-6220.