‘Puppy mill’ bill won’t do any good

The California Senate just passed Assembly Bill 485. This bill bans the sales of cats, dogs and rabbits from pet stores unless sourced from a rescue or shelter. Proponents, such as Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, claim AB 485 will stop the sale of unethically bred dogs in California.

It is unlikely to do this. The facts shows that AB 485 will hurt animals and pet lovers.

First, illegal breeders are already prohibited by federal law from selling to stores. Pet shops are the most heavily regulated sector of pet professionals, regulated through multiple state statutes — some of which are now at risk thanks to amendments to AB 485. These measures supplement federal laws that require pet stores to source exclusively from U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed breeders or breeders too small to be licensed. These statutes do an excellent job of preventing illegal and unethical breeders from selling mistreated animals in California.

Related, national surveys show that two percent of cats and four percent of dogs come from pet stores — compared to about 35 percent of dogs that come from rescues and shelters. Breeders, friends and relatives, and even the streets provide more dogs to American homes than pet stores.

Clearly, pet stores don’t keep unethical breeders in business.

Second, AB 485 may prevent lawful, licensed breeders and many hobby breeders from providing healthy pets to Californians. Consumers will therefore be driven to buy dogs, cats and rabbits from unethical businesses.

Supporters of bans like AB 485 unfairly demonize all commercial breeders. This common misconception is contrary to the principles that led a breeder to tell me that every dog he raises gets four veterinarian visits in the first 10 weeks of life. Each of his adult dogs has enormous grass fields to run in, and they were eager to be petted. Another kennel owner personally built agility and exercise equipment for his dogs — in huge enclosures.

Third, denying Californians their choice of cat, dog or rabbit will disproportionately harm people who desire — or require — puppies and purebred dogs. Pet stores help poor Californians who cannot afford to travel to a breeder, but who require specific traits due to allergies, space considerations or temperament find a pet.

Stores also provide state-required warranties for certain genetic and communicable diseases in cats and dogs. A recent amendment to the bill strips this warranty from the rights California pet owners have when entering a pet store.

Finally, proponents of AB 485 cite Los Angeles’ 2012 ban as an example for state legislators. However, public data shows that the ban has borne mixed results — adoptions are down, and both intake of pets and euthanasia numbers were already dropping. Additionally, many shelters and rescues import dogs and cats from out of state (and out of the country) because they cannot meet consumer demand by relying exclusively upon local surrenders and strays.

AB 485 accomplishes none of its advocates’ goals and wastes limited taxpayer resources going after regulated and ethical pet professionals. Contrary to the rhetoric surrounding AB 485, responsible retailers are more concerned than animal activists about bad actors. Breeders who put profits before pets, rescue owners in Los Angeles found guilty of animal cruelty and abuse, and the California rescue owner indicted on March 20 for illegally importing animals and the alleged abuse of at least 100 dogs egregiously violate principles of pet care.

Retailers’ concern for animal welfare led stores to propose an amendment to make California’s breeding restrictions more stringent — a compromise rejected by Assemblyman O’Donnell. When it reaches his desk, Gov. Jerry Brown should veto AB 485 for the sake of California’s pets, pet professionals and pet lovers.

Dustin Siggins is the director of communications for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the national legislative and advocacy voice of the responsible pet trade.

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