Tennessee has a huge puppy mill problem and no law to fight these operations that mistreat the dogs they profit off. Just over the past year we have heard of several puppy mill rescues, including two—one in Grundy County last month and another in Madison County last June—where hundreds of dogs were found living in squalor among the corpses of other dogs.
In both cases, the owners were suspected of selling puppies online. But here’s the kicker: they couldn’t be charged with violating any puppy mill laws because Tennessee just doesn’t have one.
A puppy mill law we helped pass in Tennessee sunsetted in 2014 when the state declined to fund enforcement efforts. Despite attempts by some lawmakers, it has not been renewed in subsequent years. According to news sources who quoted humane law enforcement officials, this absence of a law has led to difficulties accessing properties suspected of being puppy mills to check on complaints, and a delay in obtaining search warrants.
As if this anarchical situation weren’t enough, a Petland store that would sell puppies is now about to set up shop in Memphis, one of the largest cities in Tennessee. The reason this is concerning is that Petland sources animals from puppy mills, many of whom have appeared on our annual Horrible Hundred reports of problem puppy mills in the United States. Most Petland stores sell 80-100 puppies a month, so one could assume that they will potentially bring in hundreds of puppies from out of state for sale in Memphis, exacerbating what is already a bad situation.
Local animal advocates have been objecting to the Petland opening, saying their local shelters are already filled with dogs and puppies in need of homes. A Change.org petition, “Say no to Petland in Memphis” had more than 22,300 signatures as of Monday morning.
Luckily, the Memphis city council is now considering an ordinance to stop the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores. The city will vote on this humane pet store ordinance for the first time tomorrow and it will then move on to a second and then final vote in the following weeks. Tennessee celebrities Priscilla Presley and Ginnifer Goodwin have both submitted comments in support of the Memphis ordinance. Two other cities in Tennessee, Nashville and Franklin, have already passed similar ordinances.
We are rooting for the Memphis ordinance. If it passes, Petland will have no option but to abandon its plans for selling puppies there. Our investigations have proven time and again that besides sourcing puppies from puppy mills, Petland often fails to provide needed treatment to sick puppies and sells sick or even dying puppies to an unsuspecting public. It’s time for this chain to stay out of cities like Memphis, or better yet, follow the model of other pet stores by ending the sale of cats and dogs in all their stores, and focus on pet food and supplies instead.
The situation in Tennessee also highlights why we need better vigilance from the federal government of massive online pet sellers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is tasked with this job under the federal Animal Welfare Act, but as we have been reporting, it has failed to enforce the law against puppy mill violators during the four years of the Trump administration. This, combined with the absence of a state law, has no doubt helped operations exploiting dogs thrive and flourish.
Following the Grundy County case, news reports said state Sen. Jon Lundberg, who had introduced a puppy mill bill in 2017 that failed in committee, plans to revisit the issue. We urge other Tennessee lawmakers to also do their part and ensure a bill cracking down on puppy mill abuse passes their state swiftly, so that cruelty such as that we have witnessed in these recent puppy mill rescues is ended for good.