A new legislative task force on puppy mills decided Wednesday it will research and hold public hearings around the state on whether to ban the sale of commercially bred puppies in Connecticut pet shops.

During an organizational hearing at the state Capitol, the task force announced it would send a report by January in time for a legislative hearing on a bill in the coming session.

If the bill passes, Connecticut would be the first state to ban the sale of these dogs and cats in pet stores, though some cities, including Los Angeles, have passed similar bans.

Task force chairwoman Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, proposed similar legislation in the last session, an amendment that would have required pet shops to sell only dogs and cats obtained from public shelters or incorporated rescues by January 2016. But the bill was never raised and eventually was amended to create the task force instead. 

Kupchick said she has done extensive research on the commercial breeders ever since she had a bad experience with a pet shop beagle with a genetic disorder that required $16,000 in veterinary bills.

She says out-of-state commercial breeders keep 900 to 1,000 puppies penned in 2-by-4 feet cages without taking them out for exercise.

“They are treating domestic animals worse than livestock,” she said.

She said the Animal Welfare Act requires the USDA to inspect these breeders every year, but says that doesn’t always happen.

Kupchick said she would prefer that people buy their puppies from family breeders or rescue or shelter organizations instead of the 18 pet shops in Connecticut that sell dogs and cats.

Steve Primus, who owns Statewide Pets in Orange, said after the meeting that pet shop owners are the only ones who are licensed, regulated and inspected. He said that adoption agencies, despite their name, actually end up selling dogs for as much as $400, and should follow the same rules.

“It’s just un-American,” he said. “Why should a small section of the legislature decide what everybody should be able to buy or own.”

Task force member Charlie Sewell, a lobbyist for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said if the purpose of the task force is to deal with substandard breeders, he fully supports the goal. But he said he was leery of any attempt to interfere with legitimate breeders.

“We have lots of legitimate businesses, lots of happy customers and lots of happy pets,” Sewell said.  

Sewell also pointed out that there were no pet shop owners on the task force, which consists of animal welfare activists, a dog breeder and representative each from the state Agriculture Department and a state veterinarian association. He said he hoped that pet shop owners would get plenty of opportunity to talk at the public hearings, which will be scheduled to be held in each end of the state.

Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, co-chairman of the task force, said he expects the process will be fair and everyone will get a chance to speak his mind.

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