Blow to Puppy Mills: California Bans Pet Store Sales of Dogs, Cats, Rabbits


California has become the first state to ban the sales of dogs, cats, and rabbits at pet stores. Pet stores will be able to adopt dogs, cats, and rabbits from reputable shelters or rescues, however. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 485 on Friday, October 13.

The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act was authored by Assembly member Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach.

“This is a big win for our four-legged friends, of course,” O’Donnell said in a statement Friday. “But also for California taxpayers, who spend more than $250 million annually to house and euthanize animals in our shelters. I am very grateful for the strong support we received from animal lovers across the state and from Social Compassion in Legislation, the bill’s sponsor.”

More than 200 communities across the U.S.and Canada—ranging from Chicago to Austin to Toronto to Albuquerque—have similar pet store restrictions in place at local levels. Several counties, including Cook County in the Chicago area, have bans as well. Californians are already more than half way there, as most of the population resides in cities where similar pet store restrictions are in place, including Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego, and San Francisco. In all, more than 30 California communities limit pet store sales.

The pet store industry and the American Kennel (AKC) spent a great deal of effort (and no doubt dollars) attempting to fight the bill. To be clear, these organizations wanted the status quo, except eventually sought to overturn ordinances in cities that had banned pet store sales of dogs and cats. 

“Assembly Bill 485 reverses California’s tradition of leading the nation in pet and consumer protections,” said Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. “It also strips consumers of many pet store protections, risks hundreds of jobs, and reduces pet choice.”

You can read the AKC’s arguments and my counterpoints.

After Governor Brown signed the bill, the AKC responded. “AB 485 blocks all of California’s pet lovers from having access to professional, licensed, and ethical commercial breeders,” said Sheila Goffe, vice president of government relations for the kennel club, in a statement.

I have no clue how this prevents potential dog owners from purchasing from reputable breeders. Instead of heading to a pet store for an American Cocker Spaniel or Beagle, now people will head to reputable breeders, who indeed are a far better choice! The AKC has stopped supporting their own hobby breeders in a desperate measure to ensure large-scale operations can continue.

Who’s side is the AKC really on?

As for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council statement, indeed there were some limited protections and recourses consumers could take in California after purchasing a dog or cat from a pet store. Once this law (AB 485), prohibiting sales of dogs, cats, or rabbits, goes into effect, though, there will be no need for such protection laws since animals will no longer be sold at pet stores. Better to have consumer protection laws than not, but it’s far better that the animals aren’t sold there in the first place.

Pet stores (often through third-party brokers) receive their stock from large-scale operators (AKA puppy mills). And no responsible breeder ever sells to a pet store.

Also, puppies and kittens aren’t washing machines. Once purchased, does the health guarantee matter? Will people who fall in love with them allow them to be returned to have who-knows-what happen to them?

As for job loss: I hope not. The truth is that there are several national chains that sell dogs or cats (and sometimes rabbits) at pet stores. However, most pet stores—the overwhelming majority—want nothing whatsoever to do with selling dogs, cats, or rabbits, and they survive, including the pet superstores. We need pet stores, and I want these businesses to not only survive but to thrive—if (and only if) they are ethical. And, it’s not ethical to purchase and sell animals raised in inhumane, horrific conditions. Aside from the ethics issue of selling these animals, they’re typically not sold for what they really are. For example, a puppy might be sold as a Yorkipoo and have no Yorki or Poodle in it. Selling something under false pretenses is fraud. And now, as if all that isn’t enough, there’s a new threat, which the CDC has released information on, regarding the spread of  Campylobacter infections linked to puppies sold at pet stores.

In California, pet stores will have lots of time to respond, AB 485 doesn’t take effect until  January 1, 2019. Violators face $500 in penalties.

In Chicago, enforcement is an issue, because the city doesn’t know quite how to do that, and there are still a few stores that sell dogs, cats, and rabbits even though it’s against the law. Those stores apparently maintain they are rescues with a 5013C.

What the pet industry and the AKC are worried about now are similar bills passing around the country. And they should be worried. Americans are increasingly becoming hip to the fact that selling dogs and cats at retail outlets just isn’t right.