A California bill that would prohibit pet stores from selling live dogs, cats and rabbits that aren’t from a rescue group or a shelter is garnering support from animal welfare activists across the state – including locally in North County.
But opponents of the bill – including one prominent San Diego County pet store owner – argue that the bill strips consumer of the right to choose where they purchase their animals.
Assembly Bill 485, which was introduced in February by State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, takes aims at retail pet stores that sell animals from commercial kennels, sometimes referred to as “puppy mills.”
The kennels, which often operate in small towns in the Midwest, Rust Belt and South, transport their animals to pet stores, where unsuspecting consumers pay thousands for animals that, in some cases, fall ill or have significant problems that wind up costing owners thousands of dollars.
The bill recently on Wednesday, May 17, passed a significant hurdle, clearing the State Assembly appropriations committee, a month after clearing the State Assembly business and professions committee.
AB 485 mirrors many local ordinance passed in recent years that bar retail pet stores from selling animals from puppy mills, such as in Encinitas, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos.
O’Donnell, who said he owns two dogs adopted from shelters, said the bill’s benefits are twofold.
“This bill will save lives and taxpayers dollars,” O’Donnell said. “It is a win-win. What we are trying to address is the drive-shopper who goest to the mall and decides on a Sunday afternoon to buy a purebred pet-store puppy, all the while there is a lovely puppy in the shelter waiting to be euthanized.”
O’Donnell said it costs the state $250 million to house and euthanize animals.
“If you have a pet store, you shouldn’t be procuring animals from the Midwest,” O’Donnell said. “You should be selling animals from shelters that need loving homes.”
Locally, groups such as Not One Animal Harmed and the Spay Neuter Action Project, have registered their support for the bill and are actively campaigning for its passage in the state legislature.
Animal welfare activists said the sale of animals from commercial kennels is a consumer protection issue because people who purchase animals from pet stores currently don’t know the conditions where the animals were born and with little recourse to learn about the conditions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates commercial kennels, this year removed an online cache of its inspection reports of the kennels from its website, making it even more difficult for consumers to learn about the origin of their pets.
“People see a puppy in a store window and have no idea that it was shipped in a big truck from the Midwest on a 30 to 40 hour journey or that the mother is still stuck in a puppy somewhere churning out puppies,” said Bryan Pease, an attorney who founded the Animal Protection and Rescue League. “This bill not only protects animals, it protects consumers from fraud. I don’t think anyone would be supporting this industry if they knew what was behind it.”
Pease and other supporters said that the state law would provide uniform standards, rather than the hodgepodge of local ordinances that allows for pet shop owners to set up shop in cities where regulations don’t exist.
In North County, two retail pet stores are operating in Escondido, the only city along the so-called “78 Belt” that has not passed an ordinance. Pease said cities like Escondido become, in a sense, like sanctuary cities for these businesses.
“I think it is time, a lot of cities have been holding off passing an ordinance because it is something that the state should be doing,” said Leslie Davies, education and outreach coordinator for SNAP and co-founder of NOAH. “Even (San Marcos Mayor) Jim Desmond said that this is an area where the federal government is not doing its job and the state is turning a blind eye. The state has to get involved at this point to protect consumers.”
But the bill faces stiff opposition in Sacramento from a number of dog breeder and commercial advocacy groups, including the American Kennel Club, the California Retailers Association and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which has hired a lobbyist to fight the bill.
Locally, one of the strongest opponents is David Salinas, who operates four retail pet outlets in National City, Temecula, Corona and a recently opened outlet in Escondido called Broadway Puppies.
Salinas has been the most vocal opponent of local efforts to pass ordinances in San Marcos and in Oceanside, where he previously had stores, but shut them down following the passage of the ordinances.
Salinas has also hired a lobbyist to fight the bill.
Salinas, who said AB 485 would effectively put him out of business, said the bill is misguided and that it would prohibit the sale of live animals from kennels that are heavily regulated and allow the adoption of pets from shelters and rescue groups that don’t have the same requirements.
“AB 485 turns a regulated, transparent industry into an unregulated one with no real trace or information as to where the dogs come from,” he said, citing reports of rescue groups importing animals from foreign countries rather than true rescues.
He said that banning stores like his from selling animals also unfairly limits consumer choice.
“Does the consumer have a choice or is local government going to decide where you are going to buy your products?” Salinas said. “If they do it with pets, what’s next?”
Salinas also argued that the pet adoption model would not work for businesses such as is that only sell animals and not animal supplies, citing an example of a local pet store owner who had to shut down because the adoptions caused her to lose money.
“We are not a pet product store, we sell high-end, purebred puppies, and what the state would impose is a completely different business model,” Salinas said. “It’s a losing model.”
Andrea Cunningham of NOAH, scoffed at Salinas assertions about consumer choice and the business model. Cunningham said that the bill does not prohibit consumers from purchasing animals from licensed breeders, which don’t sell animals to pet stores.
“Anyone who wants a purebred can get them from a reputable breeder, who wouldn’t sell to a retail pet store or online or to anyone sight unseen,” Cunningham said. “It is against their breed club code of ethics.”
“Taking away “choice?” No,” Cunningham added. “As with all of the other local ordinances that have been passed, all AB 485 will do, is take away (on a State level) these predators’ ability to victimize and exploit those who cannot speak, while preying on those who can.”
Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article local Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez has pledged to be a co-sponsor of this bill, which seems to be gaining bipartisan support. The next step is a full assembly vote to be held in the near future. If this passes California will be the first state to pass a bill of this kind.