I support laws in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago and over 40 other communities around America that prohibit sales of dogs and cats (and sometimes rabbits, too) in pet stores. The presumption is that most of the animals sold at pet shops come from puppy mills or other unscrupulous sources.
Below are statements presenting first the views of Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, followed by my own take on this controversial issue.
Proposals around the country to ban the sale of commercially bred puppies in pet stores have great surface appeal, but they are profoundly misguided, fraught with unintended consequences and don't work. History shows that banning anything the public wants produces underground markets, not solutions. Laws limiting consumer choice to rescue and shelter dogs will grow the burgeoning black market in dogs where animal abuse is rampant.
No decent person condones cruel or neglectful treatment of animals, and there's no doubt that unacceptable commercial breeders and pet stores exist. But black sheep are present in all groups and professions and we don't ban entire industries because of them. We regulate them.
The Chicago City Council, and (governing bodies in) other communities around the country, have pre-judged all pet stores and commercial breeders to be unscrupulous, and as a consequence passed laws requiring pet stores to obtain their pets exclusively from rescues and shelters. Apparently, legislators where these laws to prohibit pet store sales of dogs and cats have passed consider rescues and shelters to be as uniformly wholesome as they simultaneously view pet stores to be corrupt. Pet stores bad: Rescues good. It's a simple formula with only one possible policy conclusion.
But the issue is much more complicated than the formula implies. The verifiable truth -- despite considerable propaganda to the contrary -- is that both groups include good and bad operators and both should be thoughtfully regulated.
Instead of a well-researched policy designed to improve animal well-being and help consumers distinguish good pet sources from bad and decrease pet shelter euthanasia, the measures around the country -- which are labeled consumer protection -- require stores to swap their purpose-bred dogs obtained from regulated breeders for random-bred dogs of unknown origin, temperament and health, from an unregulated chain of supply.
Significantly, infectious diseases and parasites are commonly found in this unregulated marketplace, and zoonotic diseases (which people and pets may share), including rabies, have recently surfaced in the unregulated dog rescue channel.
At the National Animal Interest Alliance, we support all people who work to improve animal treatment and care, and we support reasonable laws to accomplish that goal. But successful laws focus on solving problems, not scapegoating easy targets.
The only difference between the situation in 2014 and say, 20 years ago, is that today there are far fewer independent pet stores which sell commercially-bred dogs, cats, or rabbits. The old time Ma and Pa pet shop owners have mostly retired, while today's new generation of independent pet store owners feel it's ethically wrong to sell these animals. Not to mention, as one pet store owner told me: "Even if I felt it was morally justified, the economics don't pay off."
Today, most pet stores that sell commercially-raised animals are chain-like operators, such as Petland stores, with big bucks behind them to oppose the legislative bans. I maintain that if polled, the overwhelming majority of pet store owners actually agree with me, as clearly the general public does.
I suppose I could argue back and forth about the percentage of dogs sold at pet stores which come from puppy mills. Let's say that number is as low as 10 percent (and, of course, it's many times that), isn't that enough to say "stop"?
For decades, I've heard pet industry officials say, "We'll regulate ourselves." Naturally, they don't want to be legislated, but sadly, they've been unwilling or unable to regulate themselves.
As for the black market for animals surfacing online, that's already going on. Last fall, changes in the federal Animal Welfare Act mandated restrictions on selling animals online. So, it's not as easy as it once was, and there will almost certainly be future restrictions.
At least when potential pet buyers go online, they do so with forethought, while most dogs, cats, or rabbits sold at pet stores are often impulse buys.
It's hard to resist that puppy in the window. We've bred dogs for thousands of years with Neotony tendencies: big round eyes, large foreheads and other appealing characteristics, which aren't too different from those of human babies. And just as with human babies, we're hard-wired to respond with a surge of hormones like oxytocin, which make us feel warm and fuzzy when we see a puppy.
Besides, you don't avoid creating laws because there may be ways around them. We have speed laws for drivers, though people can buy devices to determine if there are police nearby.
Responsible breeders selling a pet, or an animal shelter or rescue agency adopting out an animal should make inquiries about the perspective buyer or adopter; if they don't, it's a red flag. And I agree that not all rescue groups are legit). Still, a pet store will only ask one question: "Will that be cash or credit?"
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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