2015 Big Year for Animal Advocates as Cities Enact Bans Aimed at Puppy and Kitten Mills

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SAVE THEM ALL: Two rescue cats at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Best Friends, HSUS and other animal welfare advocates have backed laws that require all kittens and puppies sold at pet stores to be from shelters and rescue organizations. Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Did you know that more than 85 cities in the United States and Canada have laws banning pet stores from selling dogs and cats that don’t come from shelters? More than twenty Americans cities and towns took the same step this year, according to Best Friends Animal Society. It’s a major trend that’s picking up momentum and is aimed at cracking down on puppy and kitten mills. “This is really an organic movement that’s grown online,” wrote Steve Dale on chicago.now. “People are just tired of tortured animals – often that’s really what these stores are selling.”

In November, Casselberry, Florida became the first city in Central Florida to enact a partial ban on sales of cats and dogs from commercial breeders. “I’m absolutely ecstatic,” animal activist Carla Wilson told the Orlando Sentinel. Fifty-eight other U.S. cities and counties have adopted similar laws, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which says there are some 10,000 puppy mills operating in the country. Activists like Wilson are hoping that similar bans will reduce demand for pets from breeders and encourage people to adopt rescue animals. Every year, 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized; 80 percent of those are healthy and adoptable, according HSUS.

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One of 31 cats and kittens rescued from a kitten mill in Savoy, Massachusetts. Image courtesy Catster.com and the Berkshire Eagle

There’s been some push back from the pet industry. In October, an article by Mike Bober ran on the petbusiness.com Website with the following headline: “Fighting Pet Store Bans.” The article states that such bans “limit the sources from which a family can obtain that perfect pet and increase the likelihood of relinquishment.”

Phoenix, Arizona made national news in July when a federal judge sided with the city, which passed a law that says pet stores can only sell shelter and rescue animals. The law is constitutional and can stand, said U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell. Before the ban, one pet store in the Paradise Valley Mall sold 500 puppies a year, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. Close to 23,000 dogs were being bought and sold each year in Maricopa County alone, and 41,000 dogs are sold each year in Arizona, the same news outlet reported. Kitten mills are not as common, but they are part of the problem. “A kitten mill is a breeding location where purebred cats and kittens are living in tight conditions, share space with too many cats, go without medical attention and often live in their own waste,” according to petful.com.

“The health of the cats and kittens is not a concern for the kitten mill owner. The main goal is selling the kittens as soon as possible before they show signs of illness.” In a raid on one North Carolina facility, 42 cats were seized from a trailer where the ammonia-filled air was recorded at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the food and water dishes were empty or filled with waste, officials said.

Phoenix joined other major cities with similar laws, including Chicago, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, El Paso, Toledo, New Brunswick, San Diego, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, although the law there has hit some snags in the courts. Ontario, Canada has had a similar law since 2011.

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More than twenty American cities and towns passed laws this year banning the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores unless they are rescue animals. Too often the puppy in the window is the product of puppy mills.

Bober argues that the pet industry promotes responsible pet ownership. “We as an industry have a vested interest in increased, responsible ownership of pets obtained from all sources, and we have the hands-on expertise in animal care that many activists lack. Yet somehow, we have allowed ourselves to be painted as heartless and profit-driven, caring less about animal well-being than our bottom line. Of course, we know that’s not the truth.”

Best Friends Animal Society of Utah publishes a list of municipalities with similar bans on its Website, besfriends.org. “Retail pet store sales bans are welcome trend that is putting the squeeze on commercial breeding operations,” Best Friends states on their Website. Bober says that pet stores need to get their message out. “Retailers need to engage customers to show that their pets’ best interests are your top priority.”

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