No Pets For Sale?

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Pet sales bans draw support and criticism.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of municipalities across the United States have sought to ban the sale of pets at pet stores. Proponents view these bans as a way to not only shut down substandard breeding operations by diminishing the market for pet animals, but also to help reduce the number of homeless pets. Opponents, such as the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), state such measures are an attack on pet ownership.

“This campaign is a reflection of a broad anti-pet movement, and the fact that advocates are actually succeeding should be a cause for concern for anybody who believes in the right to have pets,” said Michael Maddox, PIJAC’s vice president of governmental affairs and general counsel.

In 2010, at least four U.S. municipalities introduced measures to ban the sale of pets at pet stores. Two of those municipalities adopted outright bans, one city postponed the matter and the other amended its original proposal to place certain restrictions on pet sales.

These efforts are supported by animal welfare groups, such as Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends, based in Kanab, Utah, has taken up the issue as part of its Puppy Mill Initiatives campaign, formerly called the Puppies Aren’t Products campaign. Elizabeth Oreck, the national manager of Puppy Mill Initiatives, said Best Friends doesn’t have a problem with pet stores, per se, but rather with the “high-volume commercial breeders” supplying the pet stores.

Oreck defined high-volume commercial breeders as those who maintain a significant number of breeding dogs in order to produce the maximum number of puppies, primarily for the pet store trade.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees commercial breeding operations, Oreck claims the dogs in these facilities are still raised and bred in inhumane conditions. For example, she said the dogs are not provided with sufficient housing, rest periods between breeding cycles and socialization with humans.

While Best Friends advocates for improved conditions at breeding facilities, Oreck said these facilities could never provide the dogs with an acceptable quality of life.

The Austin, Texas, city council unanimously approved in late 2010 an ordinance that, among other provisions, included a ban on the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores.The measure was proposed in response to a group of citizens who accused the city’s only pet store that sold dogs and cats, which has since closed, of selling puppies supplied by “puppy mills,” said David Lundstedt, vice chair of Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission.

“If enough communities pass similar legislation, it could put a dent in the puppy mill industry by removing the outlet for their, I guess, merchandise,” said Lundstedt, who spearheaded the initiative.

Pet industry leaders don’t deny the existence of substandard breeders, but in general, they argue that enforcing regulations—not banning the retail sale of pets—is the best way to handle the issue. Most pet stores sell healthy, responsibly raised pets, they contend, and while these bans might put substandard breeders out of business, the bans also would unfairly affect these responsible breeders.

“Most dogs and cats in pet stores come from responsible licensed breeders,” Maddox said.

While proponents of these bans have their sights set on shutting down puppy mills, they also see prohibiting retail sales as a way to reduce the number of pets entering the country’s shelters and to increase adoption rates.

“It just doesn’t make sense to keep making dogs when we’re having to kill so many because there just aren’t enough homes for the ones we have,” Oreck said.

That was partly the thinking behind Austin’s recent ordinance.Patricia Fraga, a spokeswoman for the city, said the ordinance is part of a holistic plan to help Austin reduce the number of pets that come into shelters and increase its live release rate to 90 percent.

Albuquerque, N.M., instituted a similar ordinance in 2007. Since then, the total number of animals entering the city’s two shelters has decreased each year, from 28,268 animals in 2006 to 24,119 animals in 2010, said Rick De Reyes, Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department marketing manager.

De Reyes said the ban on retail pet sales likely contributed to the decline, but he also cited other elements of the ordinance, such as mandatory spay/neuter and microchipping provisions. Additional factors, such as shelters no longer accepting feral cats, are likely to have contributed, he added.

“We suspect it’s a combination Of things,” De Reyes said.

PIJAC contends that even though there are many pets in U.S. shelters, there aren’t enough shelter animals to satisfy consumer demand. Now if commercial breeders are put out of business because of these pet sales bans, the public’s access to pets will drastically diminish, Maddox said.

“A ban on the sale of pets is a ban on pet ownership,” he said.

“It’s synonymous. If anybody tells you otherwise, it’s a smoke screen.They’re trying to cover up that their goal is to ban pet ownership.” Less available pets would have a direct impact on the pet industry.

“Clearly, if we have fewer pets, you’re going to see the industry adversely affected because we’re going to see less demand for pet products and see less sales,” Maddox said.

That doesn’t mean PIJAC or pet specialty retailers discourage pet adoption. Many retailers, including big-time players Petco and Petsmart, regularly hold adoption events and work closely with shelters and rescues to place homeless pets.

Under Petland’s Adopt-A-Pet program, for example, the stores’ pet counselors work with staff at local animal shelters, pet rescue groups and members of the community to find homes for many animals. The program has helped place more than 225,000 pets in the last 10 years, Petland reported.

Some pet stores have completely done away with the traditional pet sales model in favor of an adoption-only model. One such store is the Petland in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood.It switched to an adoptiononly model in November 2010.

Co-owner Eric Caplan said public input was a primary factor in making the switch. Individuals who accused Caplan of selling dogs that came from substandard breeders regularly protested against the store. Caplan also recalled several instances in which customers filled up a shopping basket of supplies only to walk out once they realized the store sold live animals. Not wanting to alienate potential consumers, Caplan looked into an adoption-only model.

“Everybody questioned where the puppies came from…they just kept reiterating the puppy mill thing,” he said. “After awhile, it questioned my character, and I didn’t like that, so we started exploring other options.”

Now Caplan, and his wife Marci, with whom he co-owns the store, work with local shelters to offer dogs, puppies, kittens and cats, which are housed in the store. Shelters get an adoption fee, and Petland adds a service charge to cover the costs to take care of the animals.

The program doesn’t make a profit and it can be a challenge to maintain a steady supply of animals from the shelters, Caplan said. But, total store sales are stable and the move has been overwhelming supported by the community, he said.Many animal rights groups promote adoption-only models.HSUS recently reported that more than 1,000 independent U.S. pet stores, such as pet supply chain Pet Valu, have taken a pledge not to sell puppies as part of the organization’s Puppy Friendly Pet Stores program. It is unclear, though, if any of those stores transitioned to adoption from a traditional pet sales business model.

Best Friends often receives inquiries from pet stores looking for information on how to set up an adoption-only business model, Oreck said. The organization offers assistance in making the transition, from facilitating relationships with shelters and rescues to helping with marketing and promotions.

Best Friends assisted in the transition at several stores, including Pet Rush in Glendale, Calif., and Fresh Paws of Bel Air, formerly Woof Worx, in Los Angeles, she said.

“We don’t want people shutting their doors or having to go out of business,” Oreck said. “We just want to encourage them to convert to a more humane business model, one that offers rescued pets for adoption.” But many in the industry said consumers should be able to choose where they acquire a pet, whether at a pet store or adoption center.

“There is no single best place to get an animal,” Maddox said. “It depends on the individual needs of the pet owner, and responsible pet owners should be able to choose where they get their pets from.”

Elizabeth Kunzelman, director of marketing and communications for Petland Inc. in Chillicothe, Ohio, said taking away a consumer’s right to choice is “dangerous territory.” Although many advocate shelter adoptions in lieu of purchasing puppies from a pet store, many customers do not want to be limited to adopting shelter animals, she said.

“If the more sophisticated pet store operations are eliminated, an even greater percentage of puppies would be obtained directly from unlicensed sellers subject to minimal oversight,” she said.

Already this year, pet sales bans have been brought up in at least three more towns—Lake Worth, Fla., Amherst, N.Y., and Fort Collins, Colo. In one of those—Lake Worth—a ban was actually adopted.

For now, pet sales bans may only be popping up in a handful of towns throughout the country, but they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

“This is why pet owners need to be more active in protecting their rights to own pets,” Maddox said.“The majority of this country owns pets, and when we’re battling bans on pet sales, we’re battling to protect pet owners’ rights.”

This article was first published in the April 2011 issue of Pet Product News magazine.