Legislators are considering a bill that would require all pet stores in California – big and small – only sell animals they've acquired from an animal control agency or shelter. The proposed law would apply to dogs, cats and rabbits.
Supporters say it’s a way to shutter the commercial breeding industry, but opponents call the idea a simple solution to a much more complicated problem.
Already, 33 cities in California have local ordinances similar to this proposed law – including Turlock, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe. And in 2009, more than a dozen Sacramento-area pet stores signed a pledge by The Humane Society that says they will not sell puppies.
“I think we absolutely would prefer to see stores make the best choices for them and the communities they serve,” said Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which opposes the proposed law.
Authored by Long Beach’s Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, the bill is called The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act. It passed its first hurdle this week -- but at Tuesday’s hearing in the Capitol, animal rights advocates were arguing on both sides of the issue.
“This bill will simultaneously decrease the demand for animals bred in puppy mills and kitten mills, and increase the demand for animals from shelters and rescue organizations,” Assemblymember O’Donnell told the Assembly Business and Professions Committee. He called the bill a “win-win.”
Ten thousand puppy mills -- licensed and unlicensed -- operate in the United States, according to a 2014 estimate by the Humane Society. The agency also found about a quarter of the dogs in shelters are purebred. But PJIC and other pet retail industry advocates say there are potential problems in requiring stores only sell shelter animals, including the risk of spreading disease.
Right now, pet stores are restricted by federal law in how they source dogs from breeders. Fewer than 1,800 breeders are legally qualified and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, according to Bober. If the pet comes from a breeder, stores are also required to provide customers with a warranty.
“One of the elements we find most problematic is pet stores are required to provide this warranty. Shelters do not,” Bober said. “Consumers are not protected as they are currently.”
An example he pointed to was the recent incident in Stockton, where an animal shelter was temporarily shut down after a dog tested positive for a bacteria (nicknamed Strep Zoo) that causes sudden death. After sharing the news on Facebook, many people who had recently adopted from the shelter commented concerns for whether their new family member was possibly infected with the disease.
At this week's hearing, stakeholders on both sides of the bill want to find a solution that addresses the ultimate end goal: reducing the amount of animals that are in shelters. The bill passed from committee, with a request that it would be amended in a way that eases the impact on small businesses.