On March 5, Chicago became the latest participant in a growing movement across the country to stop the sale of commercially bred dogs in pet shops. The city ordinance will take effect in one year. Since our state legislature is also taking steps to stem the flow of puppy mill dogs into our pet shops, I believe Chicago’s actions can lend additional perspective to our own debate.
The situation in Chicago is comparable to Connecticut in that both areas have 16 puppy-selling pet shops. However, Chicago’s population and its geographic footprint are smaller than our state, resulting in a higher per capita and per mile presence of puppy shops – an indication that suggests greater demand for these puppies than in Connecticut.
Yet the Chicago City Council passed the retail ordinance by a vote of 49 to 1.
Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza explained that the ordinance “cuts off a pipeline of the animals coming from the horrendous puppy mill industry and instead moves us towards a retail pet sales model that focuses on adopting out the many, many homeless animals in need of loving homes in this city,” according to an NBC Chicago report.
Animal advocates in Connecticut share this motivation — 2,700 cats and dogs were euthanized in Connecticut’s municipal shelters in 2012.
A report on years of grueling research was presented to Connecticut’s Task Force on the Sale of Cats and Dogs at CT Pet Shops from Inhumane Origins, and it revealed that CT’s pet shops indeed source their puppies from puppy mills. Over 70 percent of the USDA-licensed breeders supplying our pet shops in 2012 were cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act within the past three years. Many of these violations involved dogs with serious, untreated illness and injury; large accumulations of dog waste; insect infestations; failure to provide water; poorly ventilated kennels, including excessively warm temperatures and ammonia-saturated air that burned inspectors’ nasal passages; dogs without bedding in frigid temperatures; and dogs living in almost total darkness.
As these horror stories reach mainstream media and concerned legislators, many ask, “Why can’t we simply cut out these ‘bad actors’ from our supply chain and use only ‘good breeders’.” There are two main reasons why this is not practicable.
First, the task force heard repeatedly that good breeders do not sell their puppies to pet stores. Local reputable breeders are more comfortable dealing directly with potential customers, who in turn benefit from the expert knowledge of the breeder and can verify humane breeding conditions on site.
Second, the “USDA inspected” badge means nothing with respect to humaneness. To earn the USDA seal of approval, commercial breeders need only comply with the extremely low standards of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which outline survival standards, not humane standards. The weakness of the AWA means that even the best breeders with the cleanest inspection reports can still be puppy mills, with wire flooring, no bedding, no socialization, no regular veterinary care – these are legal conditions.
What’s more, the USDA’s ability to regulate even these weak standards has clearly become unmanageable. A 2010 audit by the U.S. Office of Inspector General found the USDA’s inspection process severely lacking. One hundred twenty inspectors are responsible for visiting nearly 2,000 licensed breeders, on top of visits to thousands of other regulated entities that handle animals, such as research facilities, exhibitors, dealers, and transporters.
Local reputable breeders abound in Connecticut, as do responsible rescue organizations and hardworking animal control officers with full kennels of loving puppies and adult dogs waiting for you to give them a chance. Connecticut residents have dozens of ways to obtain a new family companion without patronizing the exploitative system of puppy production.
On January 31, the task force wrapped up its work with a list of recommendations to further regulate pet shops. Ultimately, it declined to propose that Connecticut’s current 16 pet shops be stopped from selling commercially bred dogs. The task force did, however, propose to prohibit the sale of commercially bred dogs by new pet shop licensees. The inclusion of the “grandfather clause” would allow Connecticut’s 16 current pet shops to continue their businesses, yet guard against the spread of their inhumane business model to new storefronts.
SB 445, raised this session, contains some of the task force recommendations, but it should be strengthened to reflect the task force’s conclusion that retail pet shops should not proliferate. I urge passage of SB 445 — amended with a grandfather clause. As a result, Connecticut will send a powerful message that we wish to see this exploitative retail model come to an end, and that we will not accept any more puppy-selling shops in our state.
Vernon resident Amy Harrell is president of CT Votes for Animals, a 501(c)4 nonprofit animal advocacy organization.