The Humane Society of the United States and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs were facing a defamation lawsuit brought against them by Mary Ann Smith, a Missouri puppy-mill owner.
Ms. Smith, who happens to be the mother of U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, who represents the Eighth Congressional District in southeast and south central MO, claimed that the HSUS defamed her when, in 2010, they called her kennel one of the “worst puppy mills in Missouri.”
In April, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the mill owner, stating that she can’t sue advocacy groups for defamation. That court upheld a circuit court decision, which previously dismissed the same suit.
In 2010, the HSUS had released a report in support of a dog protection ballot initiative, known as Proposition B, the Canine Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. The measure would place caps on breeding dog ownership and set parameters for acceptable dog care. The HSUS reviewed a number of kennels when gathering support for this initiative, publishing a 27-page report called “Missouri’s Dirty Dozen.”
In their review of Smith’s Kennel, inspection reports detailed one or more dogs with cherry eye, cysts from walking on cage floors, overgrown nails, bloody feces, infectious matter in their eyes and hair loss. The dog were exposed to extreme temperatures without adequate shelter, had inadequate space to turn and move around freely, and missing veterinarian treatment records.
In November 2010, Missouri voters approved Proposition B, following publication of the report. Protect the Harvest, a group of businessmen who are anti-animal welfare, stated “the vote eventually passed because many Missouri voters did not know exactly for what they were voting.”
Ms. Smith son, Rep. Smith, the 2011 Missouri House party whip, sponsored a repeal bill in the state legislature against Proposition B, before it went into effect in November 2011. Rep. Smith was listed in state records as a co-owner of her kennel. Protect the Harvest strongly supports Rep. Smith.
Though advocates fought back against the repeal, the Missouri Legislature removed the cap on allowable kennel headcount and loosened additional requirements, favoring the Kennel over the voters choice.
In their recent decision in favor of the HSUS and Missourians, the Supreme Court, noting the history of more than a decade of repeat USDA violations at Smith’s Kennel, said that the advocacy group’s statements were “subjective assessments not provable as false”, therefore were not seen as a defamation.
May 15th has been dedicated by the HSUS as a Day of Giving to fight puppy mills. You can join a protest or sign petitions. Find out more by checking out HSUS’s website or join any of these groups: Say No to Puppy Mills, Buster’s Vision, The Puppy Mill Project or United Against Puppy Mills. If you have additional anti-mill groups you work with, including those fighting to shut down kitten mills, please add them in your comments below so that others may join you.