According to City Councilwoman Thelda Williams, there’s a golden rule in Phoenix: “Don’t mess with our kids or our dogs.” That’s why in September, when she spoke to Friends of Animals, her excitement was palpable. A federal judge had recently ruled that a Phoenix law limiting pet sales is constitutional.
Because Phoenix was the first place where an ordinance was challenged, all eyes in the pet shop ordinance movement were on the city, where in December 2013, the City Council banned pet stores from selling dogs or cats unless the animals come from the pound or a non-profit shelter or rescue group. The plaintiff in the Phoenix case, Puppies ‘N Love at Paradise Valley Mall, appealed the judge’s decision, but Williams was confident the court would again rule in favor of the city and that the ban would be in effect by the time this article went to print. “We aren’t trying to put anybody out of business,” Williams said. “Pet stores still have the ability to sell animals and sell pet care products—just different animals. Maricopa County is a very large county, and had a tremendous amount of dogs that were being euthanized.”
In addition to Phoenix, so far federal courts have upheld similar retail pet sale ordinances against constitutional challenges in East Providence, R.I., Cook County, Illinois and Sunrise, Fla. Puppies ‘N Love is the only pet store left in Phoenix trying to sell commercially bred animals since the ordinance passed. Another pet shop, Custom Creatures stopped selling cats and dogs after the ordinance passed. And even before it passed in 2013, the tide was changing in Maricopa County—mall management at MetroCenter Mall and Chandler Mall would not renew leases of any puppy mill stores. The pet stores that were located there are now home to adoption centers for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and the Arizona Animal Welfare League.
Since the ordinance passed and Maricopa County launched its “Fix. Adopt. Save.” campaign, the number of animals euthanized has gone down. Last year, 10,160 were euthanized, down from 13,432 in 2013. Likewise, in Austin, Texas, where a retail pet sale ban was enacted in December 2010 and a no-kill plan in March 2010, the live release rate is 97 percent this year, up from 65 percent in 2010. David Lundstedt, vice chair of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, who proposed the ban, said that Petland Austin closed in July of 2010, citing the pending legislation as a major reason. Although not directly affected by the ordinance, Petland Georgetown, 28 miles away, then closed in February 2011.
Whether it’s getting pet stores to sell rescue animals or forcing them out of business entirely if they refuse to, Friends of Animals applauds efforts that crack down on the puppy mill industry and encourage people to adopt so euthanasia rates continue to decrease. We have been working to eliminate systemic killing in shelters and pet overpopulation through a nationwide, low-cost spay and neuter program since 1957.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Deborah Howard, founder of the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), believes that retail pet sale bans will gain even more momentum because of Phoenix’s victory in court. People in the movement are thrilled to see courts confirming that pet store ordinances are a lawful use of a city’s power to promote animal welfare and protect its citizens by banning sales of puppy mill cats and dogs at pet stores. Already more than 90 jurisdictions in the United States and Canada have passed ordinances prohibiting the retail sale of commercially bred dogs and cats and rabbits in some cases. CAPS takes credit helping to usher in the movement—one of the highest profile pet-shop ordinances, West Hollywood, was a direct result of a CAPS investigation.
Following a nearly six-month protest of the pet store Elite Animals located there, and a CAPS undercover investigation, the West Hollywood City Council passed an ordinance in February 2010 prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops, with an exemption for the adoption of shelter and rescue animals. The CAPS investigation revealed that the store was selling puppy mill dogs from the U.S. and Russia and violating a federal law prohibiting the import of dogs under the age of six months for resale.
While Elite Animals closed instead of adopting a humane business model, others like Pet Rush in Glendale, Calif., are choosing to be part of the solution, not the problem. At the urging of Best Friends Animal Society, during the summer of 2010, owner Rene Karapedian decided to stop selling puppy mill dogs and instead offer shelter dogs. He then spoke to city council members when they were considering their own ban to attest to the idea that selling shelter animals did not hurt his business.
Although he took a cut in profits by offering shelter dogs for adoption instead of selling dogs, he told The Examiner he also gained new customers who are happy he has rescue dogs. “They get a dog for a few hundred dollars who is spayed/neutered and micro-chipped and then have more left to spend in my store for supplies,” Karapedian said. “It’s a win-win for me, the customers and the dogs.” Subsequently, the Glendale City Council passed an ordinance in August 2011 banning the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores after CAPS presented evidence of violations that were occurring in Glendale’s Pets R Us. The store was special ordering puppies for customers from the Hunte Corporation in Goodman, Missouri, one of the largest dog brokering facilities in the country whose breeders had serious USDA violations.
The evidence from that six-month investigation is still being used today in passing ordinances. Albuquerque, New Mexico, was actually the first city to enact a ban in 2006. No pet stores were selling puppies or kittens at the time, but Peggy Weigle, executive director of Animal Humane New Mexico, says city council members wanted to be proactive about reducing pet overpopulation, improving humane treatment of animals and reducing intakes into city shelters.
The ban has prevented pet stores and chains from starting the practice of selling commercially bred dogs and cats. Instead, there are places like Boofy’s Best for Pets, PetSmart, PETCO and Clark’s Pet Emporium that all work actively with rescues in Albuquerque, resulting in more adoptions and a decrease in euthanasia at city shelters. The combined live release rate of Animal Humane and the city’s three shelters has reached 81 percent. Boofy’s Best for Pets owners Jeff Smith and Lisa McKitrick were active volunteers in animal rescue long before they decided to open a pet food store in Albuquerque in 2010, so utilizing the space as a venue for fostering and adoption clinics is a perfect fit. “Having events and adoptable pets at our store certainly increases our visibility, but it also increases the visibility of the rescue groups we partner with, and the animals they are trying to help,” said McKitrick. “We prefer to partner with smaller foster-based groups. Without a public facility for meet and greets, it can be difficult to get their foster pets adopted. “We would be thrilled to have a nationwide ban enacted along the lines of Albuquerque’s ordinance. Too many pets are dying in shelters to justify large-scale breeding operations.
Removing otherwise legitimate brick-and-mortar stores from the sales channel would take a big chunk out of the market for mill pets.” Mary LaHay, president, Iowa Friends of Companion Animals, agrees. “I can tell you that here in Iowa we’ve gone from having 450 plus puppy mills in 2008 to 200 today. That’s success,” she says. “By reducing the number of pet stores, you absolutely help reduce the need for the supply—the puppy mills,” LaHay said, adding that another downside to pet stores is their potential for emotionally driven purchases. “They prey on that, as evidenced by the fact that if you express any interest in a puppy, the sales personnel are trained to get that puppy into the customer’s arms,” LaHay said.
Weigle’s advice to other cities considering pet store ordinances: “Do it to save lives.” Howard shares the same sentiment. “Even if they don’t currently have a pet store, it prevents other pet shops from moving in there,” she said. “It’s a way for communities to make a statement that they do not support puppy mills and they do not want their tax dollars going to killing animals in shelters.”