OP-ED: Pet Store Operators, Dogs, Cats and Rabbits Bill, Passes Assembly and Heads to Senate

Oktober64

Photo by Oktober64

Assembly Bill 485, the legislation that will ensure that the only cats, dogs and rabbits sold in retail pet shops come from shelters and approved rescues, passed in the State Assembly on May 30, with a vote of 55 to 11. The bill will be presented in the Senate in the next few weeks and Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), a former Long Beach City council member and the main author of the bill, is very happy, and so are a lot of animal advocates, me included. Yes, this is an opinion piece. I give up all pretense after the first three.

“Today is a good day for pets in California,” O’Donnell said. “With the passage of AB 485, we are one step closer to ensuring that dogs, cats and rabbits in shelters are able to find forever homes.”

That, and more. AB 485 will help to mitigate overcrowding in shelters and the overextension of the dedicated rescuers who frequently dig into their own pockets when GoFundMe comes up short. Equally important, and maybe more so, the puppy mills that supply retail pet stores with animals that are often sick and genetically damaged will be replaced by equally adorable rescue pets, and you can get all the goodies for them in the store.

And there are organizations that rescue these poor pets from these filthpits and vet them and doll them up for adoption. You may wind up with one anyway, but there’s less of a chance of a sick puppy, he or she will have been spayed or neutered, and you’ll be paying a shelter fee instead of hundreds of dollars, not including vet bills.

Sponsorship and Details

AB 485 is sponsored by Social Compassion In Legislation (SCIL), a leading nonprofit organization focused on the welfare, protection and rights of animals. SCIL was instrumental in the successful passage of a similar ordinance in Los Angeles in 2012. Long Beach has also passed legislation in 2016 that conditionally prevents animal sales, and over 30 communities in California banned retail pet sales with various differences and degrees of stringency.

Legislation of this type is catching on across the country and in Canada, and the supporters of the bill figure that instead of having a bunch of slightly differently regulated versions of the concept, a statewide bill would offer one consistent policy that would be enforced through animal control officers, humane officers or peace officers. The bill can be accessed here.

Assembly Passage

Post-session pet pride, from left: Amitis Ariano, Simone Reyes, Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell, SCIL founder and president Judie Mancuso, Henry Brezinski, Katie Cleary, Assembly Member Matt Dababneh, Dr. Karen Halligan, Andrew Kim. Photo courtesy of Social Compassion in Legislation.

What Is a Puppy Mill?

In his opening statement, O’Donnell described in detail the mass-producing animal facilities known as puppy mills and their cat and rabbit counterparts. Puppy mills or kitten factories, he explained, are common terms for large commercial breeding factories that mass-produce animals for sale to the public, primarily through retail pet stores. He cited the facilities as clustered in Midwestern states, although there are a smattering of them in the Northeastern and Southeastern states. These hellholes are notorious for housing animals in horribly unsanitary and overcrowded conditions and for not providing sufficient food, water or veterinary care. Pets generally stay inside cramped cages and get no socialization or exercise. The results are disease, genetic defects and other issues. Store owners, O’Donnell added, rarely know the true condition of the animals.

“Animals are treated as commodities,” Assembly Member Matt Dababneh (Encino-D) and co-author said. “And half the dogs bred will die in transit.”

Puppy mills, despite any claims to the contrary, exist. I haven’t been to one, but I believe in snow, Mrs. Anna. If you’ve Googled “puppy mills” and still aren’t convinced, maybe you’ll believe Oprah. Check out an exposé she did in 2014.

Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), also a co-author, said that the most compelling testimony she’d heard came during a city council meeting in Glendale for similar legislation, which passed. A pet-store owner stood up and said, “There is no reputable breeder that would sell a pet to a pet store. And every single dog and cat that’s in a pet store in California comes from a puppy mill.”

Pet stores I did visit, back in the day with Judy Crumpton, an animal activist who used to co-write the column, and we recall how staff wouldn’t tell us where the puppies and kittens go when they’re too big to be considered “cute.” I once went to a local establishment on the pretense of wanting to buy a bulldog. The store owner said that they all had papers, but he told me with a shady little smile that he wasn’t going to show me any documentation unless I bought a dog (the store’s gone now and is selling online. Caveat emptor, and canis, cave).

Bipartisan Support and Opposition

AB 485 has both bipartisan support and opposition; among the ayes, 50 were Democrat and two Republican; of the noes, one was Democrat and 10 were Republican. Abstentions included five Democrats and nine Republicans.

 “Pets are one of the things that cross party lines,” said Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside). “I strongly suggest that you support this bill.”

Chavez told of how upset he was at the number of pets killed at shelters and the money spent housing them while people still purchased animals at pet shops.

The single dissenting voice was Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach), who said, “Someone’s got to speak up for the pet shops and pet-shop owners. As many ordinances like this have gone throughout the state, we’ve seen small businesses get pushed out of business because it’s disrupted their small-business model to be successful, especially many immigrants who have come to this country to be able to start new businesses. I’m a proponent of adoption myself, but to impose this on small businesses I think is the wrong thing to do.”

Limiting Choices, or Healthier Ones?

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the industry arm of pet ownership, takes the same position. In a statement from the organization, its president, Mike Bober, said that banning non-rescue animals would simultaneously put hundreds of people out of work and reduce the state’s protections for prospective pet owners.”

Bober also said that the bill as written would limit choices for pet owners.

“Restricting sources of companion animals to only the most reputable and ethical breeders would ensure the availability of healthy pets as well as allow Californians the full diversity of choices to find the pet that best fits their needs,” he said. “Pet stores are already far more regulated than their shelter and rescue counterparts, and they often serve companion animal owners with lifestyles that require a pet with specific traits and characteristics. Sourcing restrictions would make sure all parties benefit.”

Bober’s statements are arguable. First, the bill does not rule against licensed, responsible breeders. Better yet, a prospective purchaser of a purebred animal will have the option of not only buying an animal that’s approved as a breed but also being able to see the environment where it came from.

And anyone wanting a purebred animal can get one from legitimate breeders, where a prospective pet owner can actually see the places the animal comes from. They’ll know that they aren’t paying through the muzzle for a dog or a cat that’s been bred under shady circumstances with unknown genetics. O’Donnell stressed that the bill does not limit consumer choice in this way.

“You’re saving tax dollars from euthanasia and animal control fees—and you’re saving lives,” Crumpton said. “This is a good bill—it won’t hurt the AKC and it won’t hurt small businesses.”

The effectiveness of USDA inspection policies is also in question. As noted in a previous Scratching Post article regarding the bill, the agency made it more difficult to access reports of pet-shop conditions when it replaced a searchable database with the Freedom of Information Act. An individual wanting to check conditions of a store would have to access an application for the information and complete it. That’s an extra step. Besides, even in a store that’s so free of filth and bacteria that customers could eat off a kennel floor, the pets there are likely not free of issues. MarketWatch gave a good rundown of pet-shop practices in this respect.


 

The possibility of pet-store owners being forced out of business is also debatable. Adopt & Shop sells cats and dogs that come from shelters. The store has two locations, one in the Lakewood Mall and the other in Culver City. Although Adopt & Shop is part of the nonprofit Found Animals, it mimics a traditional pet store in that it’s a small business and also sells pet food and accessories. The Lakewood Store has been in existence for six years and has six salaried employees. Associate Cecilia Villaseñor believes that even if they weren’t part of a larger organization, they’d still be self-sustaining.

“We have pretty high foot traffic, and we move animals through our store fairly well,” she said. “We sustain ourselves through anything we sell in our store. If we weren’t part of a nonprofit, we’d be doing the same thing, because we have a retail component. We use the money from the retail to pay rent and vet care.”

A little over 10 years ago, Eric Hatch, the owner of the privately owned LaunderPet chain, bought the former Peg’s Pets location in Seal Beach. The store sold live animals, and a condition for the sale was that the seller find homes for any remaining pets before the close of escrow. This was done, and since then, Hatch has opened two more locations that offer grooming and good-quality pet items for sale. He seems to be doing just fine.

 “My four stores have a long history of referring customers to local rescue groups and local breeders,” Hatch said. “While I would like to see AB 485 expanded to include some pocket pets—guinea pigs, for example—I support the bill’s intent and hope that it will become law.”

And Bober did note another omission besides the lack of inclusion of pocket pets.

“As currently drafted, this bill does not change or limit current practices for individuals purchasing animals from local breeders, the Internet (if applicable laws allow), other states, or by other private sales,” he wrote.

That’s grist for another entire article. I’ll only say, don’t do it—don’t buy a pet off Craigslist. There are a number of reasons including one I’ve touched on earlier. I could say “You get what you pay for,” but I don’t want to objectify an animal. And although Kelsey Eberly, a staff attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, agreed that there’s nothing stopping California from regulating animal sales on social media, she questions Bober’s motive for citing it.

“It is ironic that the pet industry opposition essentially faults the law for not going far enough to also cover Craigslist and social media sales,” she said. “The Craigslist issue is just a distraction by the pet industry to criticize a bill that would make monumental progress in protecting dogs and preventing unsuspecting consumers from suffering emotionally and financially to care for sick and dying puppies that are sold by pet stores. Craigslist itself already bans animal sales, and typically, these sales are more one-off or smaller numbers than pet stores that sell thousands of animals every year. And there is nothing stopping California from regulating internet sellers of animals. However, the bill would make significant progress in curbing the puppy-mill-to-pet-store pipeline and reduce the tragic killing of healthy animals in our overcrowded animal shelters.”

Judie Mancuso, founder and president of SCIL, is hopeful for the Senate passage and says that she and her colleagues are elated with the response and support of the legislature.

“In educating legislators about the bill, we heard many stories from members and staff about their own experiences with sick animals purchased from pet stores, heartwarming stories of fostering, and of rescuing pets in need,” she said. “The shelter pet is already the state pet—now California is on its way to helping those pets get out of shelters and into pet shops, where they have a much better chance of finding their forever homes.”

I wish you dogspeed.

Learn more about AB 485 here. Links to legislators are also included.

“Do you see that doggie in the shelter,
the one with the take-me-home eyes?
If you give him your love and attention,
he will be your best friend for life
In each town and city across the nation,
there’s so many dogs with no home;
hungry with no one to protect them,
lost in this world all alone.”

~ 2009 remake of “Doggie in the Window,”
sung by Patti Page with lyrics by Chris Gantry.
Hear the full version here.  

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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