SALT LAKE CITY — With an aim to discourage puppy mills, Salt Lake County on Tuesday became the first Utah municipality to pass an ordinance outlawing pet stores from selling dogs, cats or rabbits unless they come from animal shelters.
The law will not affect any existing pet stores because it only applies to the unincorporated area of the county, but County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw said he hopes it will set a precedent for other Utah cities.
"No one's business is at stake by us passing this, but it does send a message that as a community we value our dogs, cats and rabbits, and that we want to ensure that they're not viewed solely as a product for profit," said Bradshaw, who is also executive director of the Best Friends Animal Society of Utah.
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, released a statement Tuesday in support of the council's decision. Resale of animals through pet stores has been a "contributing factor" in pet overpopulation, he said, because the animals are not spayed or neutered when they're sold.
"We usually see irresponsible backyard breeders or puppy mills producing high quantities of animals to be sold in pet stores, leading to pet overpopulation and needless animal suffering," Baierschmidt said. "There are plenty of great animals available for adoption in shelters and rescues."
The County Council passed the ordinance 6-1, with Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton casting the lone dissenting vote.
"I'm not a big fan of government imposing undue regulations on businesses, especially when it's a regulation for regulation sake," Newton said. "We aren't having an issue with this currently in unincorporated Salt Lake County, so I'm having a hard time wrapping my arms around passing an ordinance when we really don't know who it might affect in the future."
Todd Poulsen, owner of Mark's Ark Pet Store in Taylorsville, said he worries that city officials will follow the county's example and pass similar ordinances, putting his businesses in jeopardy.
Poulsen said his store obtains puppies, kittens and rabbits from both shelters and professional breeders.
"Puppy mills don't exist like that. Those days are long gone," he said. "Why try to take it out of the hands of a legitimate business? It just leaves the industry to unprofessional backyard breeders."
But Bradshaw said the ordinance won't affect responsible breeders because they traditionally work directly with consumers and don't use pet stores as middlemen.
"Nothing in this ordinance prevents a breeder from directly selling to a consumer," he said.
Bradshaw noted that the county passed an anti-puppy mill ordinance in 2010 requiring unincorporated county breeders to obtain a license. Under the ordinance, if a breeder is convicted of animal cruelty within five years of seeking a license, they will be denied.
"We have already made the choice in our community that we want our shelter to be a no-kill facility, and this is one more arrow in that quiver, one more tool in the toolbox to help us keep that going forward," Bradshaw said.
Poulsen said the ordinance paints pet shop owners in a "bad light" and makes shelters like the Humane Society and Best Friends the "only game in town" for selling cats and dogs. Both organizations are nonprofit.
Nearly 90 municipalities around the U.S. have passed similar ordinances, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Austin, Texas.