Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday cemented California’s status as the leading state on animal welfare by signing into law AB 485, a bill that makes California the first state to ban the sale of puppies, kittens, and rabbits in pet stores, unless shelters or qualified rescue organizations supply the animals. Pet stores will have one year to transition to a more humane model by choosing to sell only pet supplies and small animals, or begin working with qualified nonprofits to place homeless animals into new homes. The HSUS and a large coalition of groups backed the bill, which was sponsored by Social Compassion in Legislation.
This public policy debate has been playing out at the local level, with more than 240 towns and cities nationwide, and dozens in California alone, banning the sale of puppies in pet stores in recent years. Maine came extremely close to passing a similar statewide ban, and the action in California could spark that state and others to try to replicate the policy. Massachusetts is considering a similar bill right now.
While California lawmakers have cut off the puppy-mill-pet-store supply chain, lawmakers in some other states are considering protecting that pipeline by way of preemption bills that would prohibit localities from banning the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. We are gearing up to fight those efforts.
The HSUS has converted a number of local pet store chains, including Pets Plus Natural, to forswear the idea of selling puppy mill dogs and to instead work with shelters to adopt out homeless animals. For pet stores, this is a best practice, since selling dogs from mills tarnishes the reputation of their businesses and courts protests, investigations, and other forms of activism.
Just a few weeks ago, a Manhattan puppy store closed its doors two months after The HSUS exposed mistreatment of its puppies, so the debate is playing out directly in the marketplace too. Earlier this month, the CDC expanded a disease outbreak advisory linked to pet store puppies, with 55 human victims now identified, 13 of whom became sick enough to be hospitalized. The CDC is now reporting that the current strain of the human disease linked to pet store puppies, Campylobacter infection, is resistant to many common antibiotics. If that disease pathway is confirmed, it will only accelerate the national movement away from commerce from puppy mills.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency in charge of inspecting puppy mills that sell to pet stores, has routinely relicensed pet breeders who have dozens of animal welfare violations – including the very same pet breeders who might be linked to the current outbreak. The HSUS, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and other groups have asked American citizens to write to the USDA to urge that the agency crack down on operators who game the system by failing to comply with basic animal care standards, but who get licensed under the name of a family member or in some other duplicitous manner. You can make your voice heard by taking action here.
Whether it’s at the local, state, or federal level, reform in the large-scale commercial dog breeding world must happen. These mills operate here in the United States, and they cause harm to dogs. They bring too many risks and too few rewards, and it’s time for the American public to embrace a new model of bringing pets into their lives in a humane way.