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California Assembly Bill 485 sounds good, but does it tell the whole story?

In October, California passed a bill (Assembly Bill 485) that restricts California pet stores to selling only animals from registered shelters or rescue groups. As of January 1, 2019, pet stores will no longer be able to sell puppies garnered through breeders, whether they’re USDA-licensed, hobby breeders, or the dreaded “backyard” breeders (often called puppy mills). The idea behind the bill is to prohibit the purchase of puppies, kittens, and rabbits for resale from puppy mills or other breeders, where the pets are known to often be neglected, mistreated, and living under inhumane conditions. By banning the resale of such pets, lawmakers hope to force the shutdown of unethical breeders who don’t conform to basic health and ethical standards. The bill was largely applauded when its passing was announced in October.

But since then, some powerful advocates for pets have spoken out against the bill. Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) President Mike Bober denounced the bill, pointing out that it exempts pet stores from warranty laws, consumer information requirements, fines, and other important regulations, leaving consumers without proper protections. Bober declared, “Assembly Bill 485 reverses California’s tradition of leading the nation in pet and consumer protections. It also strips consumers of many pet store protections, risks hundreds of jobs, and reduces pet choice.”

Some, including the World Pet Association (WPA), are questioning why the bill doesn’t target the source of the problem: the puppy mills and any breeder who doesn’t properly care for the animals in their charge. WPA argues that responsible pet stores source their animals from USDA-licensed breeders and distributors, hobby breeders as defined by the Animal Welfare Act, and local adoption centers, where animals are vetchecked before release. “These pet stores enforce strict requirements for their breeders,” reports WPA. “These include a consulting veterinarian providing good medical care, safe and comfortable housing, frequent socialization and exercise, and a state-issued health certification.”

So where do puppy mill puppies go? According to WPA, they’re not being sold in pet stores—they’re being sold illegally through the Internet and other third-party sources, and this ban in California will do nothing to stop them. The organization claims the new bill will not defeat puppy mill breeders; it will only hurt profits for pet stores, cause the loss of jobs in the industry, and leave future pet owners vulnerable, with no recourse or insurance against buying a puppy they know nothing about.

Sheila Goffe, American Kennel Club vice president of government relations, urges, “A much smarter solution is to educate future pet owners about the demands of responsible pet ownership; support responsible breeders, including local breeders who breed high-quality pets; encourage public interaction with local breeders and other educated pet experts who can advise prospective owners; strongly enforce existing laws against negligence or cruelty; support the needs of our local shelters; and ensure access to a variety of pets so owners can make a good choice for their pet’s lifelong success.”

But advocates for the bill say it’s a victory for animal welfare that’s been a long time coming. The nonprofit Last Chance for Animals (LCA)’s President and Founder Chris DeRose lauded the passing as “a landmark victory and one that we have championed for decades.” DeRose disputes the claims that pet stores generally uphold high standards for procuring pets, and that puppy mills sell mostly through the Internet or third parties.

“Most of the dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, where they often live in filthy conditions and suffer from serious health concerns,” said DeRose. “LCA has been dedicated to exposing this truth, educating pet store owners about how they contribute to the problem and supporting those who wish to transition to a humane model. Our ‘Puppy-Mill-Free Stores’ campaign led to Los Angeles becoming home to the nation’s first humane pet shop.”

That humane pet shop is the Orange Bone (formerly The Puppy Store) on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Orange Bone was the first store in the nation to “go humane”—to no longer sell animals from possible puppy mills. The store made this commitment as part of a pilot program initiated jointly by Last Chance for Animals and the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.

“We are elated that our home state is leading the way on this important issue,” said DeRose. “Requiring pet stores to sell only rescue and shelter animals is a bold venture—but one that will help rehome some of the six million unwanted animals that enter shelters each year.”

California Assembly Bill 485 amends the state’s Food and Agricultural Code and Health and Safety Code relating to public health. On and after January 1, 2019, pet store operators will be prohibited from selling any live dog, cat or rabbit in a pet store unless the animal was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter, Humane Society shelter, or rescue group. Pet stores will be required to maintain records that document the source of each animal it sells for at least one year and to post on the cage or enclosure of each animal a sign that lists the name of the entity from which each animal was obtained. Public animal control agencies and shelters will be authorized to periodically review those records. Pet store operators who violate the bill’s provisions will be subject to a civil penalty of $500.

Whether California Assembly Bill 485 will halt the abuse and neglect that goes on in puppy mills without devastating reputable pet stores remains to be seen. But the discussion and controversy about the bill has certainly raised awareness for the painful truth about improperly bred pets who suffer terribly at the hands of cruel and unethical backyard breeders. With that awareness comes hope that maybe someday we’ll see fewer sales, or even none at all, for these unscrupulous organizations.

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