Governor Signs Tennessee Commercial Breeder Bill

puppies from TN raid

Update: Gov. Phil Bredesen has signed the puppy and cat mill bill into law.

For more on this new law, H.B. 386, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.  

Update June 19: H.B. 386, the Tennessee puppy mill bill, has now passed the state Senate as well. The vote was 26-2.

The bill goes to Gov. Phil Bredesen. Let him know that you want him to sign this bill, H.B. 386, to require licensing, inspection and regulation of commercial dog and cat breeders.  Here is the governor’s email: and Phone: 615.741.2001
Fax: 615.532.9711

For more on this bill including amendments made in the House, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier reports below.

Update June 17, 2009: H.B. 386 has passed the Tennessee House of Representatives by a vote of 93-3.

But the bill was weakened by several amendments: The limit of 75 intact dogs per commercial breeder was removed. The bill no longer authorizes confiscation of animals or criminal penalties. Civil fines of $50-$1000 per violation are still available.

The Commissioner of Agriculture whose department would oversee enforcement of the new law, would have the authority to apply for an injunction to enforce the requirements. 

Another amendment would require any person who possesses or maintains 20 or more adult female dogs or cats for the purpose of selling their offspring as companion animals, who is in violation of this bill or any rule,   would be required to reimburse the government for any costs reasonably and necessarily incurred in transporting, treating, feeding, maintaining or otherwise caring for any dog or cat possessed or maintained illegally. 

Inspections could only be conducted by state employees, and breeders must be given an opportunity to correct violations. Inspectors would be required to report violations of animal cruelty or other laws to the local authorities. 

References to transport have been removed from the bill.

Breeders could still obtain licenses even if they had convictions for animal cruelty or violation of animal protection laws except aggravated animal cruelty. The convictions must be at least 10 years old, however. The requirement that licensed breeders be of good moral character was removed. 

Instead of a semi-annual report, breeders would only be required to submit an annual report. The report would no longer be a prerequisite to renewing a license and would not need to include information regarding to whom the animal was sold, the sale price of each transaction, and the names and addresses of the persons from whom the breeder received dogs or cats.

The Commissioner would be authorized to set license fees. An account would be established to collect funds from various sources to administer and enforce the new law. 

The bill has a sunset provision, meaning if it becomes law it would expire on Jan. 15, 2014. At that time the Comptroller would be required to provide the results of a study on the implementation, impact, cost and benefit of the regulations. 

For more on this bill and as originally introduced, read Animal Law Coalition’s initial report below.

Puppy Mill dogTennessee state Sen. Doug Jackson says the conditions at the Hickman County, Tennessee puppy mill of Patricia Adkisson were abhorrent enough to prompt him to introduce S.B. 258 (H.B. 386 in the House), a bill that would require licensing of commercial dog and cat breeders, establish regulatory control over these breeders, and also offer protections for consumers purchasing these animals as pets.

Adkisson has been indicted by a Hickman County Grand Jury on 36 counts of animal cruelty following the seizure of nearly 700 dogs from her. Authorities seized the dogs in a raid, finding many dead dogs and other animals as well. The dogs were living in filthy conditions, suffering from injuries, dehydration, starvation, infestation, rotted teeth, mange, matting, sores and other skin conditions. Adkisson operated as  

Sadly, previously in 1999, Adkisson was charged with 253 counts of animal cruelty and convicted on 3 counts. She was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $1,000. Hardly a deterrent as she immediately continued her mill, inflicting suffering for years on untold numbers of animals.

If lawmakers in Tennessee need more incentive to regulate puppy mills, consider the case of the 291 dogs seized this past week in a raid on a mill in Sparta in White County, Tennessee.

Authorities in White County conducted a 2 year investigation of Gary and Heidi Holland and in a raid that included help from ASPCA and American Humane Association, among other organizations, found dogs in horrific conditions.

Most of the dogs lived in small makeshift cages or rabbit hutches, crammed together with feces everywhere. Authorities, rescuers and veterinarians reported the stench was so bad they could barely breathe. They were forced to wear respirators as they removed and examined dogs, most of whom had never been handled by people. The dogs are reportedly suffering from lack of food and water, injuries, mange, matting, sores, abscesses, and poor teeth, among other conditions.  The  condition of many of the dogs was so poor that they had to be provided emergency veterinary care. There is a video at the end of this article.

The investigation was prompted by reports of stolen dogs, complaints about sales of sick puppies that died and horrific conditions on the property.  

Under current Tennessee law only commercial dealers that sell dogs for resale or at flea markets are required to obtain a license. TN Stat. Sections 44-17-101 et seq.  But USDA also requires licensing for dealers selling dogs for resale and Tennessee authorities simply leave this to federal authorities.   

puppy millS.B. 258 and its counterpart in the Tennessee House of Representatives, H.B. 386, is called the Commercial Breeder Act. The House version was introduced by Rep. Maggart Sontany.

Breeders have mounted stiff opposition to the bill, one, Dick Dickman, claiming the American Kennel Club already has strict requirements for breeders.

Of course, the AKC is not a regulatory authority and whatever care standards it may have for its members is not enforceable. In fact, though the American Kennel Club may have issued "registration papers" for dogs in a commercial kennel, the AKC rarely actually confirms the dogs are purebred or inspect the conditions of the breeder or puppy mills. The American Kennel Club, for example, issues registration papers to any breeder who submits an application and pays a fee. Consumers will then believe the dog is "registered", a "purebred". 

The papers simply indicate the purebred lineage the breeder stated on the application. The AKC has said it "is the largest and only significant not-for-profit dog registry …in the US."  The AKC claims to register "nearly 1 million purebred dogs and over 400,000 litters of purebred puppies every year. " Indeed, in 2006 the AKC registered 870,000 individual dogs and 416,000 litters. At $20 per dog and $25 per litter (plus $2 per puppy), AKC brought in well over $30 million in revenues from registration of dogs.

With its 14 or so inspectors, the AKC does not actually travel to every breeder’s facility to inspect it. Nor does AKC check to find out if the puppy even qualifies for registration. Though the pet stores and breeders may not tell consumers this, the AKC has announced it "cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry." 

Nor is AKC interested in enforcing standards of care or placing limits on breeding. As an American Kennel Club (AKC) representative recently put it: "[D]ogs are … property. And, by law, they are considered that. And we like to leave the option to the owner of the property, of the dog, with the breeder…. It’s their decision as to how …  many intact females to own or how many litters to produce." 25-30% or more of purebreds end up in shelters.  

This bill, S.B. 258/H.B. 386, makes it a criminal offense for any commercial breeder to advertise, sell, offer to sell, transport or offer for transportation any companion animal unless the commercial breeder has a valid license from the Tennessee commissioner of agriculture and has complied with the rules and regulations.  

A "commercial breeder" is a person who possesses or maintains at least 20 female dogs or cats with the purpose of selling their offspring as companion animals. Breeders with 20-40 adult animals must pay a fee of $500, and those with 41-75  adult animals would pay $1,000. Breeders could not have more than 75 breeding animals at a time.

This bill also makes it an offense for a commercial breeder to kill or destroy a companion animal by any means other than euthanasia performed by a licensed veterinarian.

These offenses would be Class B misdemeanors, punishable by fine only.

This bill also makes it an offense for a commercial breeder to operate or maintain a controlling interest in any other shelter or to violate any provision of this bill. The offense would also be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by fine only. After a licensed commercial breeder receives notice from the commissioner of any violation of this bill, each day of a continuing violation would constitute a separate offense.

CatThe commissioner would issue a license to an applicant after determining that:

(1) The applicant or the responsible officer of the applicant is of good moral character;
(2) An inspection has been made of the premises and a finding is made that it conforms to this bill and is a suitable place in which to conduct the commercial breeder’s business;
(3) The commercial breeder has a valid sales tax registration number and is in good standing with the Tennessee department of revenue; and
(4) The licensee has never been convicted of any criminal offense against an animal.

The license of any commercial breeder may be suspended or revoked by the commissioner for any of the following reasons:

(1) The violation by the licensee of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977;
(2) Willful falsification of any information contained in the application;
(3) The licensee’s conviction of any offense involving cruelty to animals or a violation of this bill; or
(4) The licensee’s nonconformance with: this bill; the rules and regulations of the commissioner; the Non-Livestock Animal Humane Death Act; or the present law provisions governing offenses against animals.

This bill requires each commercial breeder to file semi-annual reports containing the following information:

(1) The number of dogs or cats in the possession of the commercial breeder on the date the report is filed;
(2) The number of dogs and cats sold during the reporting period and the names and addresses of the persons to whom they were sold; and
(3) The number of dogs and cats received by the commercial breeder other than those purchased and the names and addresses of the persons from whom they were obtained.

The premises of a commercial breeder must be made available to the commissioner for inspection at all reasonable times. The commissioner would make inspections or investigations of the premises and records as considered necessary.

This bill authorizes the commissioner to confiscate companion animals maintained in violation of this bill and to enter into cooperative agreements with local or federal animal welfare agencies or national humane organizations to house and provide for the humane treatment of the animals. The commissioner would also have the authority to petition the court in which a violation of this bill or criminal offense against animals is being heard to request that the commercial breeder or person commercially breeding in violation of this bill be ordered to post security for the care of the animals. The commissioner may enter into cooperative agreements with local and federal agencies for purposes of implementing this bill.

The following violations of this bill would also be deemed to be violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977:

(1) Each companion animal sold, offered for sale, or advertised while the dealer or commercial breeder is unlicensed or has had such license suspended or revoked; and
(2) Each unfair or deceptive statement, material omission, or action taken by a commercial breeder.

Any commercial breeder who commits a violation of the Act as described above in (1) or (2) would be subject to a remedial civil penalty for each separate violation not to exceed $1,000. Upon reason to believe that a commercial breeder is selling dogs or cats while unlicensed, the attorney general, after consultation with the director of the division of consumer affairs, may issue a pre-filing request for consumer protection information in
accordance with the Act. Should a person deny the representative access to the premises, the attorney general could petition a court for an order granting access to such premises and records.


Find your Tennessee legislators here. Find Tennessee state senators here.

Call or write them and urge them to support H.B. 386. It’s time to limit the breeding in Tennessee and regulate commercial breeders. It’s time to stop the suffering of these animals and the huge expense to taxpayers from rescuing, caring for and placing animals from unregulated breeders. 





3 thoughts on “Governor Signs Tennessee Commercial Breeder Bill”

  1. I hope someone replaces this bland YouTube video with one that is more explicit. This video doesn’t show how absolutely appalling the conditions are/can be and instead is rather bland in comparison. For those who are not yet versed in this problem, this video here would do nothing to move them to act but instead think animal activists were just whining for nothing. Please find a better representative video of the problem to do the cause justice.

  2. The picture at the begining of this article was enough to disgust me. The thing I’m concernd about is the way they are going about legislation. Making reputable Breeders fill out all that paper work every year is not going to get them anywhere. These people fill out paper work to register dogs all the time. Inspections is the only way to stop puppy mills
    I can not stress enough inspections, INSPECTIONS, inspections. Every single person that breeds a litter or two or fifty litters a year needs to be inspected on a yearly basis a surprize inspection at that. I have searched far and wide for USDA regulations on dog breeding and they are very hard to come by. I try hard to stay legal and have a nice clean kennel and make sure my dogs for to the Vet. when needed, but to find the USDA standards is near impossible.

  3. Inspections are part of the licensing requirements. There is an initial inspection to qualify for or renew a license and inspection allowed upon complaint.

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