Amy Baxter should be spending Thursday playing fetch or taking a long walk with her playful labradoodle Ollie, instead she’ll spend it on Beacon Hill alongside other desperate pet owners pushing for state regulation of doggy daycares, kennels and other boarding facilities.
March 10 would have been Ollie’s 2nd birthday, but the curly-haired puppy didn’t even make it to his first. He was fatally mauled by a pack of dogs at an East Longmeadow doggy daycare. Baxter has vowed to spend each of Ollie’s birthdays at the State House until lawmakers act on protections for animals left in kennel care.
“Right now there is nothing. Zero,” Baxter told a MassLive reporter of state kennel regulations. “You and I could open a daycare and have no heat, not feed the dogs, leave them overnight and go on vacation and we’re not breaking any laws. It’s outrageous.”
A dog is mauled or killed every 10 days at a boarding kennel in Massachusetts, estimates animal welfare attorney Jeremy Cohen of Boston Dog Lawyers.
It’s a statistic Baxter and Cohen have set out to change. But they’ve been confronted by roadblocks at nearly every turn trying to push through legislation they call “common sense.”
Current law requires facilities caring for four or more dogs to be licensed, but the only stipulations for obtaining a license under state law is that the spaces are “sanitary and humane.”
In practice, Ally Blanck, director of advocacy at the Animal Rescue League, said it means “the only time anyone can intervene now is in really egregious examples.”
Kennel licenses are available on a municipal level and requirements vary across the state’s 351 cities and towns. There is no overarching state policy or central directory of licensed dog kennels, boarding or daycare facilities. There’s also no reporting line for pet owners or workers raising the alarm about unlicensed facilities and often little recourse for kennel owners operating irresponsibly, Baxter said.
In Ollie’s case, Baxter said it was less than an hour and a half after she dropped the 7-month-old puppy off at Pampered Pets Doggy Day Care and Spa when she was contacted via text that her dog “had a cut” with instructions to pick him up.
“In reality, he had over 100 bites — the doctor stopped counting at 100,” Baxter said. “And the dogs had broken his leg with their teeth.”
Ollie was left along with many other dogs with just one employee supervising. The woman had been on the job less than three weeks, she tested before the Legislature last July.
Ollie suffered for eight weeks as Baxter “did everything” she could to save him, at a substantial cost of more than five figures. Though she would eventually be reimbursed by the insurance company for the now-closed Pampered Pets for most of the cost, she said “there’s no amount money that could make me feel better.”
Her now-15-year-old daughter is still traumatized by what happened, Baxter said.
So she turned to the law. Driven by the desire to stop any other dogs from suffering, the former legislative staffer formed a coalition with their help drafted Ollie’s Law, which would have authorized the state Department of Agricultural Resources to create a kennel license for pet daycare facilities and implement regulations for proper pet care with input from an 11-member committee. Regulations included employee-to-dog ratios, emergency protocols and supervision guidelines for dogs based on size as well as a reporting system for safety violations.
That bill, however, died in committee in January, after lawmakers heard pushback from the American Kennel Association, which opposed the bill. The regulations would have extended to breeding kennels.
“The Legislature has failed Ollie just as much as the daycare,” Baxter said. “For every day that a bill does not pass that’s on the Legislature. These maulings are on them.”
But Baxter still has hope of passing kennel regulations in the waning months of the current legislative session.
A petition bill called “An Act protecting the health and safety of puppies and kittens in cities and towns” is currently before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
The bill, sponsored by outgoing state Sen. Harriette Chandler, has picked up a bipartisan group of 10 additional co-sponsors.
Baxter and others will host a rally at the State House at 10 am, with plans to meet with lawmakers after.
Blanck of the ARL said they are similar to regulations that “already exist” for shelters and pet shops in Massachusetts.
“It’s really not that different. These are things that are pretty standard in animal care.”
The list of maulings is long, said Cohen, whose list of clients at Boston Dog Lawyers reads like a horror story for pet owners.
One dog catapulted from an unscreened window on its first day of daycare, falling onto a major highway to its death, Cohen said.
At another kennel, workers cleaned up dog waste with a dog still inside the cage, using chemicals so harsh they burned the dog’s paws, tongue and lungs, giving her pneumonia.
“She spent eight nights in the hospital and lived but lost half her tongue, her foot pads and had breathing issues for the rest of her life,” Cohen said.
In Hanover in 2016, a 3-year-old Goldendoodle named Ben was mauled to death in a case so horrific the kennel-owner was brought up on animal cruelty charges. He was eventually acquitted, which Cohen attributed to the lack of regulation.
Baxter says she’s gotten to know many of the owners of victim dogs, who she says are now “all members of this horrific club.”
“That’s what propels me to keep working on this — it’s cathartic for me,” Baxter said. “It’s my way of honoring ollie and also my way of healing myself and my family. If we can prevent this from happening again — whether it’s in Ollie’s name or not — then I’ll feel we accomplished something significant.”