Every year, 40,000 homeless dogs pass through the doors of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the most populous county in Arizona. That’s more than 3,330 dogs a month and almost 110 dogs each day. The influx of Chihuahuas and Chi mixes alone is so large that the shelter has set aside three of its rooms just for the tiny breeds.
This seemingly unending stream of homeless pets was one of the reasons Phoenix passed an ordinance to stop pet stores from selling commercially-raised puppies. As our investigations have documented time and again, most pet-store puppies come from puppy mills, which are typically large-scale commercial breeding operations that often cut corners on animal care and treat the mother dogs like breeding machines and the puppies like a cash crop. Every day, while shelters like Maricopa’s deal with an influx of unwanted pets, hundreds of puppies from central puppy mill states such as Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri are flowing to pet stores in communities all across the country.
The pet stores peddling puppy mill dogs in communities like Phoenix create direct and indirect burdens on shelters and rescue groups. Consumers who buy pet-store puppies on impulse – typically not knowing the dogs are coming from mills in the Midwest – later relinquish them to shelters in distressingly large numbers. These pet-store puppies, along with those purchased from websites or at open-air flea markets, clog the adoption pipeline, placing enormous burdens on municipal and county animal care and control and on private animal welfare charities.
As USA Today reported today, the owners of Phoenix’s Puppies 'N Love pet store have filed a federal lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court in Arizona, arguing that the ordinance is unlawful. But to prove the case that pet stores don’t need to sell puppy mill dogs to be successful, one need only look within the county, at the Phoenix-based Petsmart, which for years has had a policy of supporting pet adoptions in its stores nationwide without selling commercially raised puppies or kittens. It’s the biggest pet store chain in the nation, with nearly 1,300 outlets in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In fact, many homeless dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care and Control are placed via a Petsmart Charities adoption center in Scottsdale, reducing crowding at the shelter and boosting its adoption rates.
The real costs of the puppy-selling pet stores, websites and flea markets are borne by the public and private shelters where so many homeless animals end up. When you add it up across the United States, it’s probably a $2 billion burden, and with 10,000 puppy mills churning out two to four million dogs, you can see that this is not an abstract or theoretical concern. It’s as real and practical as it gets.
The question remains, why can’t a city try to stop the flow of puppy mill dogs into its community, given the misery that dogs endure in mills and the costs that the community bears to deal with a homeless animal problem that results in 3,300 dogs coming through just one animal welfare agency in the county in just one month? What of the hundreds of other animal welfare organizations in the country also bearing their share of the burden?
Phoenix has joined more than 50 locales in adopting such ordinances. It’s not an attempt to restrict commerce, but to combat severe animal welfare and euthanasia problems, and to stop these businesses from passing on costs to the rest of society. These reasonable laws help to drive the market toward adoptions of homeless animals at shelters and rescue groups, and toward responsible breeders who provide proper care for their dogs.