COLUMBUS, Ohio — Editor's Note: This report has been updated with new information and clarifies that the "rule change" in an earlier draft of this story is in place already but was resubmitted in a new document and is now under review.
After a News 5 story aired regarding a controversial rule under review at the statehouse that allows some dog breeders to dock the tails and remove dewclaws for puppies ages 2 to 5 days old, the rule was pulled by the Ohio Department of Agriculture so they could “have more time to look at it” and possibly “revise” it, according to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR).
This rule was being re-proposed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), and has been in place for years, despite some lawmakers and animal rights activists saying it was against the Ohio Revised Code.
JCARR was supposed to be hearing testimony on Tuesday on a rule that would allow any commercial or high-volume breeders to perform these procedures.
The original documents have been removed from the JCARR website, but News 5 obtained copies.
Although this is a common cosmetic practice for some dogs, the question of who is doing the procedure is causing concern for animal activists.
"There are rules that the Ohio Department of Agriculture are trying to continue to operate under and to pass, that would allow dog breeders without a vet being present without pain, medication, without anesthesia to lop off the tails of dogs and also utilize equipment to pull out their dewclaws," said Vicki Deisner, state government affairs advisor for Animal Welfare Institute.
The Humane Society describes "puppy mills" as inhumane high-volume dog breeding facilities. Ohio ranks second in the nation for most mills.
Deisner believed this proposal would cause even more inhumane conditions.
"Now I would like to show you some of the equipment that we understand the puppy mill breeders will use to do this," she said, taking out equipment. "Here are a pair of small garden clippers. Here is a knife that they use to cut it off. Here is a pair of scissors, just plain old garden scissors and a rubber band because that process would be to tie tightly the end of the tail and basically cut the blood supply till it rots and falls off."
A report in 2021 done by the Humane Society showed Ohio breeders were one of the worst offenders for inhumane treatment of animals — with performing botched dental surgery, dogs living in feces and out in the cold in the winter, and keeping dogs in crates with other dead or severely injured puppies.
"To just simply say, 'yeah, we can lob off a tail or a dewclaw and not understand the anatomy behind that, not mitigate the pain behind that and not knowing how to properly heal that wound,' you could put a puppy into grave danger," said Dr. Ole Alcumbrac, medical director for White Mountain Animal Hospital.
Alcumbrac is a longtime veterinarian and wildlife expert. He has seen many botched cases from breeders and non-professionals trying to alter their dogs, he said.
After speaking on the phone about setting up an interview, an ODA spokesperson emailed News 5 that it was not able to do an on-camera interview and provided answers via message instead.
"These procedures have been allowed to be performed by the licensed high volume dog breeder since the inception of the law," ODA spokesperson Bryan Levin said. "The OAC requires the high volume dog breeder to have a veterinary health care plan developed by their veterinarian that addresses how the licensee will perform these procedures, if applicable (not all breeds of dog have their tails docked or dewclaws removed). So, although the licensee may be performing these procedures, there is required veterinary oversight."
Deisner said that although that may be their code to do that practice, it directly goes against Ohio law. House Bill 506 that was put into law by the 132nd General Assembly revised the law governing high volume dog breeders and other dog-related professionals and facilities.
In Section 4741.01 of the ORC, the "practice of veterinary medicine" is defined as any person who “administers to or performs any medical or surgical technique on any animal that has any disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, mental, or dental condition or performs a surgical procedure on any animal.” It also adds that a licensed veterinarian means “a person licensed by the board to practice veterinary medicine.”
In Section 956.031 of the ORC, the law states that “if a surgical or euthanasia procedure is required, use a veterinarian to perform the procedure.”
Despite what some animal advocates say, the ODA tells News 5 the rule is not against the law but further defines it. However, the ODA's Levin emailed that the “rule change” is “also intended to bring the rules up to date to reflect current ORC.”
"There are no provisions allowing for the practice of veterinary medicine based on the age of companion animal, whether it is two to five days," she said. "Allowing layperson to perform these procedures is in violation of the laws that establish the qualifications for a licensed veterinarian and places animals in danger by providing permission to an unqualified individual to perform a surgical procedure, one which also alters the animal's body and can result in long term damage."
She also added that the law states, in regard to high-volume commercial dog breeders “if a surgical or euthanasia procedure is required, use a veterinarian to perform the procedure.” As the legislation clearly states that a veterinarian is to perform all surgical procedures, the ODA lacks the authority to enact regulations that allow anyone other than veterinarians to conduct such procedures, she said.
A representative from the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) said that some activists may be misconstruing the regulation. He said, technically, tail docking and dewclaw removal isn’t surgery. Alcumbrac disagrees.
"Any time you cut into a body that is considered surgery," Alcumbrac said.
As it turns out, the OVMA, as well as the kennel vets-on-record of ODA's licensed high-volume breeders are part of ODA's stakeholder group, Levin said.
The ODA referred to the actions as “surgical procedures,” citing that “Surgical procedures, except between two to five days of age the removal of the dew claw and tail docking, shall only be performed by a licensed veterinarian.”
Allowing a person to perform a cosmetic surgical procedure on any animal regardless of age without proper pain management and euthanasia is considered animal cruelty, torture and torment, Deisner added, citing the law.
If people do really want their dog to have the same aesthetic as the rest of its breed, go to a vet, Alcumbrac said, even though he doesn't like the procedures.
"It's going to be done properly and the standards are met for the breeds," he said. "For instance, if we're doing tails on a puppy, there's already pre-established standards for where we cut that tail, how we make that tail look and we're going to be doing it, aseptically. We're going to be suturing wounds. We're going to be doing everything that we need to do in order to have the best outcome for that desired look on that dog."
The main reason that people don't want to take their puppies to the vet is that the vet can be expensive, Deisner said.
"It would save them money," she said. "If you look at what the cost to the pet store, where the puppy mills dogs go, you see dogs being sold between $2-5,000 often. There is obviously money being made, and if there's that much money being made, it should go back and some of it needs to be spent on those animals who are suffering."
She also adds that when someone has a large number of dogs, there is no possible way they are actively caring for each one of them in the best way possible. A lot of the dogs are just for profit, she said.
"Our mission is to prevent cruelty to animals in the state of Ohio and nationwide and in that respect, we are actually urging the viewers and those who care and advocate for dogs that come from puppy mills and end up being sold in pet stores, to speak up to their legislators — but particularly legislators that have oversight over JCARR," she said. "Ask them to invalidate these rules and abide by what the law says — only surgical procedures can be done by veterinarians."