Most animal lovers are horrified at the thought of keeping their beloved family pet in a dirty wire cage for a second — let alone a week, month or even years. Yet, that is the fate of many animals at large-scale commercial breeding operations across the nation, including the mothers of many puppies and kittens sold in pet shops. In response, more than 200 cities and counties across the nation have banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.
Now it is time for San Francisco to join this growing list — which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Austin — and pass an ordinance that is currently before the Board of Supervisors, which would prohibit San Francisco’s pet stores from selling puppies and kittens.
This proposed ordinance does not prevent responsible breeders from doing business in The City, and San Franciscans will still be able to purchase animals directly from breeders. People can still adopt from local shelters or find a specific breed from any number of breed-specific rescues serving the area. Instead, the ordinance is designed to bring attention to and halt the inhumane and deceptive practices of large-scale breeding operations that supply animals to pet stores and directly to consumers online.
In spite of its commitment to animal rights, San Francisco is not immune to the issues underlying this ban. While there are no known pet stores currently selling dogs and cats in San Francisco, we should all be concerned that one could open at any time, and without this legislation, our Department of Animal Care and Control has no way to stop them. This ordinance will serve as a deterrent, preventing a business from moving into San Francisco and selling animals from irresponsible mass-producing breeders that churn out puppies and kittens as if they were on an assembly line. It will help break the supply chain until these irresponsible operations have no way to profit from their abusive practices.
Purchasing a puppy or kitten from a pet store has many pitfalls. For one, consumers aren’t getting what they pay for. Despite claims that they only source from humane, small-scale breeders, numerous investigations conducted by the Humane Society of the United States reveal that pet stores across the country supply unsuspecting consumers with animals from unlicensed, unregulated puppy and kitten “mills.” The only goal of these mills is to turn a quick profit, so they rarely care about their animals’ welfare and often misrepresent both their lineage and the conditions in which they are bred and raised. The best way to prevent this cycle of cruelty is to make it harder for these breeding mill operations to do business.
The ordinance will also protect consumers from ending up with an unhealthy or behaviorally challenged animal. Puppies and kittens in pet stores are often sick because they are born into deplorable conditions, taken from their mothers too soon, and exposed to a wide range of diseases due to inbreeding or a lack of early veterinary care. It is not uncommon for a consumer to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills caring for a sick animal they purchased at a pet store. It is also well documented that dogs and cats purchased from pet stores often have behavior problems and trouble adjusting to home life because, up to the point of sale, they have been under-socialized and know nothing but life in a cage.
Beyond protecting consumers and cutting off the supply chain, this ordinance also acknowledges San Francisco businesses for their humane business practices. The large majority of pet stores in this country have stopped selling puppies and kittens and instead profit from selling pet-related products and offering quality services. Most also partner with local shelters to promote the benefits of adoption and regularly host events to help animals find new loving families. This is the model followed by San Francisco’s existing pet stores, and they should be recognized for doing the right thing and encouraged to continue. Animal Care and Control and the San Francisco SPCA combine to adopt out more than 6,300 animals a year and frequently work in partnership with our local pet stores.
San Francisco has the chance to take a stand against an immensely cruel industry and should seize this opportunity. Educate yourself about the realities of puppy and kitten mills. Share that knowledge on social media and with friends and family thinking about adding a new pet to their family. Break the cycle by not purchasing puppies or kittens online or from local pet stores. Adopt from a local shelter or rescue organization.
Katy Tang is supervisor of District 4 in San Francisco. Amy Jesse is public policy manager for the Humane Society of the U.S. Virginia Donohue is executive director at San Francisco Animal Care and Control. Dr. Jennifer Scarlett is president of the San Francisco SPCA.