On Tuesday, April 18, the California State Assembly Business and Professions Committee will vote on AB 485, the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act, a bill that will make it illegal for dogs, cats and rabbits to be sold in any California pet store unless the animal was “obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or nonprofit.”
The office of Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell is requesting letters of support and opinions from members of the public concerned about animal health. The former Long Beach councilman introduced the bill (full text and history here) to the Assembly on February 13.
“I introduced AB 485 to help save the lives of thousands of animals that would otherwise be put down,” said O’Donnell, who once brought a stray cat into his home and presently includes two rescue dogs as family members. “Many of our furry friends never find their forever homes. More than 10,000 puppy mills, kitten factories and bunny bundlers churn out millions of unhealthy animals for profit, even while California taxpayers pay a quarter of a billion dollars annually to house and kill animals in local shelters.”
Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell and rescue dogs
Puppy mills are defined by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as “inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facilit[ies] in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” These facilities are usually overcrowded, with no consideration for the health of the parent animals or the puppies themselves. These baby animals are “mass produced,” according to HSUS, and then sold by the truckload to pet stores. Although puppies are the pets most frequently bred in these facilities, animals like kittens, rabbits, hamsters and parakeets that are sold commercially also come from mill facilities.
HSUS recently responded to the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina to assist in the rescue of approximately 105 dogs, 20 cats and three goats housed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Many animals had untreated medical issues, were pregnant and in need of urgent veterinary care. Representatives from Cabarrus Animal Hospital provided veterinary expertise. Photos by Amie Chou/The HSUS.
The bill is sponsored by Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL), an organization that sponsors legislation to protect animals at the local, state or federal level. For the past eight years, SCIL has worked on local ordinances that ban animals bred in mills and promote adoption of shelter and rescue animals in pet stores. Successful campaigns in this effort have taken place in over 30 California cities, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Laguna Beach.
“We feel that we've reached a tipping point in support of these types of ordinances in California, and it’s time to pass a statewide law,” said Judie Mancuso, SCIL’s founder and president. “And Californians are on board with adopting from the shelters. This is especially true as the public becomes more and more informed about the poor treatment that animals coming from puppy mills endure. By moving these wonderful animals to storefronts with the help of the shelters and rescue groups, we increase the chances to unite these would-be adopters with their new best friend. The stores profit from services and product sale increases and also become a part of the solution of shelter overpopulation rather than part of the problem. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Among the supporters of AB 485 are the Lucy Pet Foundation, the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, the Sacramento SPCA and the State Humane Association of California. Locally, Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA), Healthy Spot, spcaLA, Fix Long Beach and Helen Sanders CatPAWS also stand in favor of the bill. [Disclosure: Author has volunteered for Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA), Fix Long Beach and Helen Sanders CatPAWS.]
“The Bill is straightforward, transparent and easy to understand,” said Judy Crumpton, FOLBA member and former co-writer of The Scratching Post. “It goes straight to what it will accomplish: far more animal adoptions, less animal hoarding, and less euthanasia in animal shelters due to lack of homes, putting a much-needed dent in the inhumane business of cruel and filthy puppy and kitten mills that offer little to no veterinary care and a life of misery until the breeder animal either dies from exhaustion or is euthanized because he or she can no longer reproduce.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia also sent a letter of support for the bill.
“By prohibiting pet store owners from selling a live dog, cat, or rabbit…unless the animal was obtained from a public animal control agency, non-profit shelter, or rescue group, AB 485 prioritizes and encourages animal adoption,” Garcia wrote. “This legislation is consistent with a local ordinance that is already in place in Long Beach…. Since the adoption of our local ordinance, Long Beach is proud to have many local pet stores working with our shelter and local rescue groups to adopt out animals in need.”
Those in opposition to the bill include the California Retailers Association, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and English Cocker Spaniel Club of Southern California. PIJAC’s mission, as stated on its website, is to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, to foster environmental stewardship, and to ensure the availability of pets. The organization develops educational programs for pet owners, the pet industry and industries related to pets, and governmental organizations that address all of these things. PIJAC has published guidelines for the retail pet industry and its employees.
“We in our industry have a responsibility to educate prospective pet owners,” said Mike Bober, PIJAC’s president. “Responsible pet ownership begins with finding your ideal animal—that is the best way to increase the chances of a lifelong relationship that cuts down shelter intake and euthanasia rates.”
Bober said that with guidelines in place and by working directly with USDA to facilitate appropriate enforcement, AB 485 is not necessary. Furthermore, he said, the law would limit the availability of pets to loving homes.
“Unfortunately, these laws don’t accomplish what sponsors want them to, which we believe is to protect pets,” Bober said. “Nationwide, only about five percent of dogs come from pet stores. Those stores, especially the ones based in California where there are regulations protecting transparency, the animals that are sold through pet stores actually provide the greatest level of consumer protection. Effective law requires that pet stores under federal law may only source dogs from USDA-licensed inspected breeders and only from breeders who are too small to qualify for licensure by USDA. More than anything, we’re saddened by this, because the reason they choose to lump all breeders together as irresponsible harms efforts to address truly bad or unscrupulous breeders.”
Bober also feels that if the bill passes, animals purchased from pet stores will no longer be covered under the state warranty law and purchasers will no longer have this protection. He added that breeders who break the law by evading USDA law certainly exist and agrees that it’s cause for concern. However, he strongly questions the number of mill-type facilities cited by O’Donnell.
“The suggestion that there are 10,000 puppy mills in the country we really think is disingenuous,” Bober said. “The USDA’s ability to oversee breeders helps to protect consumers. When groups say that all breeders are bad breeders, it takes attention from what we’ve all agreed on. Breeders that retailers are allowed to work with are those who follow the law.”
John Goodwin, senior director of HSUS’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, took issue with Bober disputing the estimated number of puppy mills across the country.
“We actually think it’s a conservative estimate,” Goodwin said. “I also noticed that they heavily touted the fact that commercial breeders who supply pet stores are supposed to be USDA licensed and inspected. The pet industry waves around ‘USDA licensed’ as a sales pitch but neglects to mention that the USDA standards are incredibly weak. And what I am taking issue with is PIJAC’s promotion of USDA licensed dog breeders. Most people would call 911 if they saw the sort of awful living conditions for puppy mill dogs that the USDA permits. A puppy mill can keep a dog in a wire cage that is only six inches longer than her body, for her entire life, and that is entirely legal. In addition to the standards being weak, the penalties are anemic as well. You know there is a problem when a puppy mill can let a dogs teeth rot, never get her vet care, and the penalty is less than a parking ticket.”
O’Donnell’s office further pointed out that the USDA recently removed the inspection reports and other information documenting animal abuse and neglect and now requires anyone requesting information about an entity fill out a request in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Critics say that this adds an extra step to anyone wanting to obtain information about animal practices by an entity.
“Replacing a searchable database with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is the antithesis of transparency and will endanger the lives of animals,” spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein said. “The USDA works for American taxpayers. We have the right to know how our tax money is spent….Now more than ever, the animal welfare community must come together to protect those most vulnerable: animals used for commercial gain.”
The English Cocker Spaniel Club did not respond to a request for a statement. O’Donnell furthermore clarified that the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act is not directed at reputable licensed breeders.
“It’s difficult to see why a breeding club would oppose this bill,” Mancuso said. “In fact, the breeding club's own code of ethics states that they do not condone the sale of its registered animals to pet shops.”
Assemblymember O’Donnell’s office and SCIL are urging supporters of AB 485, the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act, to send letters of support to his office. A sample letter is available here. For quick reference, a fact sheet about the bill is accessible here.
Any written communication, including letters of support, can be directed to the Assemblymember’s website.