Ohio residents backed by the Humane Society of the United States have proposed an amendment to the Ohio Constitution focused on puppy mills and the treatment of animals in commercial breeding.

A group called Stop Puppy Mills Ohio gathered 2,427 signatures to submit a summary petition for the amendment, titled the Ohio Puppy Mill Prevention Amendment.

The proposed amendment would emphasize humane treatment of animals by breeders, specifying standards for access to food and water, exercise, veterinary care, shelter and breeding practices.

The amendment also would specify that Ohio pet stores would be required to purchase their dogs from breeders, either in or out of state, who meet the standards.

The summary petition was cleared by Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Ohio Ballot Board, and the group will begin gathering nearly 306,000 required signatures from 44 of 88 Ohio counties to put an amendment on the ballot. The Ohio Constitution specifies that the signatures must come from half the counties, and the signatures gathered must be equal to at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for the office of governor in that county at the last gubernatorial election, according to petition guidelines on the Ohio Secretary of State website.

John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, said for the next few months, he and petition organizers will focus on "arming everyone with the facts" and gathering signatures, and he expects the issue to make it onto the November 2018 ballot.

"I think it's going to be a very popular measure," he said.

Goodwin said the amendment represents the implementation of "very basic standards of care."

He said many Ohioans are not aware of the conditions at commercial breeders and he expects the amendment to draw attention to the issue.

"A lot of people don't realize that breeders can have a medium-sized dog living in less than 7 square feet of space for its entire life," he said. "That would be completely legal right now."

Part of the issue in Ohio, Goodwin said, is the difficulty the Ohio Department of Agriculture has in tracking and breeders who treat animals poorly.

Breeders are not under the ODA's control unless they have at least nine litters of puppies and sell at least 60 puppies a year. Goodwin said both of those are difficult to track.

"Right now, it's very hard for the Ohio Department of Agriculture to prove that someone should be following these particular rules for health care," he said. "Our measure will make it easier by providing a clear standard that can be easily identified by an inspector."

The amendment would consider anyone who has at least eight breeding female dogs a commercial breeder.

Goodwin said the change would make a critical difference; he estimated 800 to 900 puppy mills exist beyond the approved commercial breeders.

"They keep these dogs in tiny wire cages," Goodwin said. "They may live their whole lives and never have their feet touch the ground."

The amendment would be different from a proposed bill in California, which seeks to eliminate puppy mills by banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from anyone other than rescue organizations and shelters.

Goodwin called the initiatives "very different."

Elizabeth Kunzelman, director of public affairs for the Chillicothe-based Petland, said the company supports the Ohio Puppy Mill Prevention Amendment.

In a prepared release, which Kunzelman said would represent the company's comment on the matter, Petland said employees "are devoted pet lovers who place animal welfare and safety above all else" and "certainly support continued higher standards of care."

The release said Petland hopes the new amendment would improve upon Senate Bill 130, which established some requirements for high-volume breeders in 2013 and has "loopholes" that should be closed.

"The intent of this amendment will bring all Ohio commercial breeders into compliance with higher standards of care," the release said.

Kunzelman previously spoke to an Ohio Senate panel in 2016 against Senate Bill 331, which would have limited where pet stores can buy their dogs.

SB 331, which was signed into law in December, included several other provisions, including guidelines for governing small-cell wireless technology and the minimum wage and criminalizing bestiality.

It was overturned June 2 when Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Frye determined it violates the "single-subject" rule in the Ohio Constitution. A spokesman for DeWine said at the time that the state planned to appeal the ruling through the 10th District Court of Appeals.

Rachel Finney, executive director for the Capital Area Humane Society, said the organization had "no formal position" on the issue yet, and declined to comment.

To read the full petition, visit ohioattorneygeneral.gov/petitions.

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