Saying they’re protecting legitimate businesses, state legislators voted today to block cities from banning pet stores from selling animals they get from commercial breeders.
The 6-3 vote in the House Agriculture, Water and Lands Committee came after everyone who testified said they were opposed to the kind of “puppy mills” that mistreat animals.
But proponents of SB1248 argued that label does not apply to all breeders. And they said an across-the-board ban is improper.
The most immediate effect of the measure if it becomes law would be to void existing ordinances in Phoenix and Tempe.
It also would permanently sideline a proposal by Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik to adopt a similar ordinance. And it would block other cities and towns from even considering similar measures.
The legislation would not leave pet sales totally unregulated.
SB1248 would make it illegal for dealers to obtain or sell any animal obtained from anyone not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also forbidden would be selling dogs and cats from breeders who have been cited for certain violations by USDA inspectors.
But Queen Creek resident Leslie Knott told members of the House Committee on Agriculture, Water and Lands that’s hardly a standard that guarantees animals are raised in a humane way.
“The USDA allows for dogs to be kept in cages that are not bigger than six inches in any direction (beyond the size of the animal) for their entire lives, never to see the light of day, touch the ground, to receive human kindness, solely for the purpose of breeding to make money,” she said. Knott urged lawmakers not to overturn local ordinances.
“The people have spoken,” she said. “They have decided they do not wish to make money in this way, on the backs of these breeding dogs.”
But Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said it is absolutely appropriate for the Legislature to step in and set a single standard for pet sales, if for no other reason than customers from one city where a practice is banned can simply go across the street to another city where it is not. Anyway, Fann said, it is the role of lawmakers to fix a problem with measures like this.
“We do not shut down businesses,” she said. “We do not start dictating to businesses where they can buy their products or how they can sell their products.”
But Nicole Galvan of Tempe said her own experience in adopting a dog that had been used for breeding shows exactly why cities should be able to step in.
“Her legs were deformed, they bent forward, because she stood on a caged ground her whole life,” she said, saying that is allowed under USDA standards. Galvan also said that the dog’s teeth were so bad from chewing on her cage and the lack of dental care that she had to have them removed and the animal has to be fed by hand.
“The USDA standards are inadequate,” she said.
And Dale Bartlett of the Humane Society of the United States, said that’s only part of the problem.
“The USDA, in its own audits, says that they do a horrible job,” he said, saying that’s why cities adopt their own stricter standards.
“They found that relying on this broken, flawed USDA inspection system is not protecting customers, not protecting puppies,” Bartlett said.
That 2010 audit done by the agency’s own inspector general found a series of problems, ranging from the enforcement process being “ineffective against problematic dealers” to misusing guidelines to lower penalties.
Bartlett told lawmakers there’s nothing wrong with adopting those USDA standards as a “floor.” But he said they should not preclude cities from going beyond those.
“They are the only laws that are actually effective in preventing ‘puppy mill’ puppies from being sold in local pet stores,” Bartlett said.
Pet store owner Frank Minoe, whose stores are at the center of the controversy, did not defend the USDA standards. But he said the state of Missouri, where the majority of breeders are located, has enacted its own regulations which “far exceed” what the federal government requires.
Anyway, he said, those USDA standards are irrelevant.
“The breeders whose puppies we help find homes for are not simply doing the bare minimum,” Minoe said. “And anyone who tells you differently, they really just don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Part of what puts Minoe in the middle of the fight over SB1248 is he sued Phoenix after it adopted its ordinance, charging it interfered with interstate commerce.
In a ruling last year, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said while Minoe had bought animals from breeders cited by the USDA, the evidence overall is that Puppies ‘N Love “appears to be an exemplary pet store.” But Campbell said the city ordinance does not run afoul of federal constitutional provisions.
That case is now on appeal.
Nancy Young Wright, a former state lawmaker, said Tucson is awaiting the outcome of that case before deciding whether to pursue its own ordinance to close the four remaining pet stores that sell pets from commercial breeders. One of those, she said, is owned by Minoe.
She urged legislators to kill this proposal.
“It’s bad for local control, it’s bad for the consumer, it’s very, very bad for the mothers and the puppies,” Wright said.
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, has said he intends to continue talking with both sides to see if a compromise can be reached before the measure goes to the full House.