SALT LAKE CITY — Utah pet stores may be prohibited from selling dogs and cats in an effort to stop what are often called “puppy mills” that may not properly take care of the animals.
“Basically, when you are talking about selling to large volume purchasers like (through) big (pet) stores and large volume producers, those things lend themselves to terrible conditions,” said HB420 sponsor Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, who is House minority leader.
The bill would limit a pet store to only hosting dogs and cats from a nonprofit animal rescues or public animal shelters for adoption. These retail pet stores would not be able to purchase their own domesticated cats or dogs and sell them directly to a consumer.
“These young companion animals should not be in a position where they can be marketed, created and raised on a volume basis (that) lends itself to abusive conditions for these animals,” King said.
He emphasized the purpose of the bill was not to demand Utahns only adopt from a rescue organization or shelter. His bill would not restrict private breeders and sellers.
“There’s no issue with freedom of choice. There’s no issue with being able to obtain a pet. It’s really just about trying to weed out the worst of the worst, which is the high-volume commercial puppy mills that are supplying most pet stores that sell commercially bred pets,” said Elizabeth Oreck, Best Friends Animal Society’s national manager of puppy mill initiatives.
If the bill passes, first-time violators would incur a warning. If a store fails to correct its practices, the pet retailer would face a $1,000 fine, with the fine increasing for each violation.
“We do know that at least ... half a dozen pet stores currently in Utah are being supplied by out-of-state puppy mills. That’s the real concern: is the puppy mill pipeline into Utah,” Oreck said.
Chain stores like Petco and PetSmart, while offering fish, rodents, birds and reptiles for sale, do not sell dogs or cats for sale, but often host adoption events for rescue groups.
Petco’s website says its policy to “Think Adoption First” is backed by its promise that any animal purchased at a Petco that then can’t be cared for by its owner will be received back and cared for until they are re-homed.
PetSmart created PetSmart Charities that funds various grants for adoptions of animals, supporting owners, veterinary research and emergency relief.
But some stores in Utah would have to change their business model.
The Puppy Store in Saratoga Springs advertises on its website that puppies sold there are from world-class breeders who follow regulations, licenses and industry standards.
Jessica Mitterling, sales manager of The Puppy Store, said “our owner goes across the U.S. to breeders to make sure that they’re all up to date on their paperwork and that they’re in good living conditions before he makes any offers on them. So, if they even have one offense he won’t go through them.”
“The puppies come first before anybody else. We make that a big priority,” Mitterling said.
Even with these advertised assurances and health guarantees of retail pet stores, Oreck said responsible breeders would not sell to pet stores because they like to meet the future owners of their dogs or cats, which they couldn’t with company stores.
Oreck said the purpose of this legislation was to help these pet stores convert to a more humane business model.
“We would rather see these pet stores stay open and become an outlet for adoptable animals to find homes. Because, as far as we’re concerned, any pet store that closes its doors is really a lost opportunity for homeless animals to find new families. We want them to stay open and support the community by being a place where positive things happen where positive outcomes occur for consumers and for pets,” she said.
The bill is expected to be discussed in the House Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday.
Correction: In an earlier version, Elizabeth Oreck’s last name was misspelled in some references as Oleck