With the pandemic allowing many of us to spend more time at home, more have taken the opportunity to expand their families with the addition of a dog or cat. Last July, the Washington Post reported, shelters, nonprofit rescue operations, private breeders and pet stores were seeing more demand than there were dogs and puppies available; some shelters had dozens of requests for the same dog and some breeders were reporting wait lists this year.
This demand has also increased the possibility for less reputable breeders – puppy mills and kitten factories across the country – to take advantage of the situation, creating consumer protection concerns for potential owners and concerns for health and safety. animal welfare.
And it reignited an effort by the state legislature to ban the sale of cats and dogs by state pet stores, an attempt to sever the link between consumers and puppy mills where lax oversight of the part of state and federal regulators has often allowed less reputable breeders. to thrive, those who keep animals in overcrowded and poorly equipped facilities that lead to disease, health problems and death.
Moved by State Representative Amy Walen, D-Kirkland, at the request of two Bellevue teens and Humane Society interns, Bill 1424 would have initially banned the sale of cats and kittens by pet stores and would have limited sales of dogs in pet stores. and puppies. During the session, the bill was reduced; sales of cats and kittens would be banned, but sales of dogs and puppies could continue without restrictions for stores that offer dog sales when the law comes into effect, in effect a moratorium. According to testimony in public hearings on the legislation, there are currently only six or seven pet stores selling dogs, including five in western Washington.
Walen, testifying Tuesday morning before the Senate Business Committee, said the change in legislation followed conversations with a range of people, including store owners, and reflected a compromise that seeks to keep things as they are. ‘they are as conversations continue on how best to protect consumers. interests, animal welfare and the rights of small business owners.
Finding consensus between each side of the issue, however, may not be easy.
Among those who testified on Tuesday was Larry Zimmer, owner of a Vancouver, Wash., Pet store that sells puppies and kittens. Zimmer, who said he only dealt with the state’s ranchers, said he appreciated the fact that the amended legislation would confer vested rights on his business and others, but he objected still in the bill because it would bring things “one step closer to the prohibition of legal sales, authorized, companies that pay taxes.
On Zimmer’s side, Kayla and Justin Kerr, owners of pet shops in Renton and Puyallup, said they personally inspect the facilities of the breeders who supply them and warned that the legislation could result in the layoff of hundreds of employees across the state and the loss of millions of tax revenues.
Others were not convinced existing regulations provided the necessary protections, including Lisa Parshley, a member of Olympia City Council and a veterinarian who testified that her clinic often had to treat stressed and unhealthy animals after long trips. from out-of-state breeders. Poulsbo’s veterinarian Carolyn Zimmers said her clinic had also treated sick puppies from a pet store that no longer sells dogs.
Federal regulation of dog breeding operations, under the authority of the US Department of Agriculture, has been relaxed in recent years, especially under the Trump administration. USDA Animal Care officials were urged in 2019, according to the Washington Post, to “treat people regulated by the agency – breeders, zoos, circuses, horse shows and research labs – more as partners as potential offenders â.
Citations for violations by the USDA following wellness inspections rose from over 6,000 in 2014 to just over 1,700 in 2018.
Statewide regulation of dog and cat sales is currently left to individual county and city authority.
Another witness urged caution regarding the end of sales of pet stores. Debbie Goodrich, who runs a parrot education company, Parrot Ambassadors, warned that banning sales in pet stores would not necessarily prevent puppy mills from operating, but could lead their online business to private sales. and far from better control. âIt’s much harder to enforce standardsâ online, she said.
Yet current regulations, state and federal, have failed to provide adequate protection in some cases.
The US Humane Society, in its “Horrible Hundred” report for 2020 of puppy factories and sellers in the United States, noted violations by a Renton breeder who was cited following a USDA inspection in 2019 which revealed several incidents of dogs suffering from mange and other skin conditions. ; dogs kept in kennels with accumulated feces and food waste; several dogs with dental and gum disease and five dogs who died between December 2018 and February 2019 due to the extremely cold weather.
The breeder was cited by the USDA, which led the owner to cancel her USDA license last spring. Still, the Humane Society noted, the breeder maintained a relationship with a pet store and continued to sell puppies directly to the public.
The legislation, now in committee in the Senate, was passed by the House, 68-30, on March 7.
The bill, among the shortest reviewed this session at just 10 lines, arguably doesn’t do much but prevents the sale of puppies by those who aren’t already selling them, but this step is necessary while options are discussed to address the protection of animal welfare and consumers; whether it is an outright ban on store sales or stricter regulation of pet shops and the breeders who supply them.
Conversations between all concerned – animal welfare groups, breeders, store owners, veterinarians, local officials and pet owners – should continue to establish better surveillance and protection of all animals and ensure that the pets that families welcome into their homes are healthy and have not suffered abuse.
In the meantime, those with the space, time and commitment to care for a dog, cat or other animal can contact their local shelter or rescue operation and adopt a pet, and if these animals have not been spayed or neutered, have them repaired.