Just about everyone loves puppies. But around the country, there’s heated disagreement about where, and from whom, people can get one.
While the large national pet store chains don’t sell dogs, other chains and shops do. But in several states, including Florida, cities are passing laws that ban puppy sales in pet stores.
At the Petland store in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale, customers come in all day long to look at and play with the puppies. At this store, in fact, doggie accessories and puppies are all that owner Vicki Siegel sells.
“Maltese, cavalier King Charles, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, dachshunds — one of my favorites,” Siegel lists off.
Even at her larger, full-service pet store in the nearby town of Davie, Siegel says puppies and puppy products account for 85 percent of her sales. “So the puppies are the ones that pay the bills,” she says.
That’s why Siegel says she was shocked a year ago when she learned the Davie town council was considering a law that would ban stores from selling dogs. The ban, she says, would put her out of business.
After Siegel brought her case to the council, the bill was rejected. But in at least 30 other communities in Florida, local governments have passed similar bans — most of them in the last three years. Bans on dog sales in pet stores have also been adopted in California, New Jersey and other states.
The laws are aimed at cracking down on substandard commercial breeders who activists say supply the puppies that pet stores sell.
Michele Lazarow is clearly a dog lover — she has three of her own. She’s led the effort to stamp out pet store dog sales in South Florida.
She says the laws are intended to encourage pet stores to follow the lead of national chains like Petsmart, Petco and Pet Supermarket. None sell dogs, but instead promote adoptions through shelters and rescue groups.
About 10 years ago, Lazarow bought a pet store puppy that developed a chronic illness. That opened her eyes about where pet stores get the puppies they sell, she says.
“All stores — 99 percent of them — sell what’s called puppy mill dogs, or large-scale commercial breeder dogs,” she says. “Yes, they’re USDA, but that means nothing, as we’ve come to see.”
That phrase — puppy mill — is loaded and controversial. Lazarow says it includes any large-scale breeding operation that places monetary value over the welfare of the animal.
It’s a broad definition, one often applied to any breeder who sells dogs to pet stores. Those breeders are all subject to annual USDA inspections. But animal welfare activists, like Cori Menkin of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign, say the inspections don’t amount to much because federal regulations are too lax.
“The regulation of breeders is so poor that all it really does is give consumers and the general public a false sense of security that their dogs are coming from a humane environment when they’re not,” she says.
Menkin says her group is working to put pressure directly on breeders. It posts USDA inspection reports that show breeder violations on its website. A ban on pet store dog sales would put additional pressure on an industry that she says has been slow to change.
There are many, though, who disagree, including the American Kennel Club, which opposes bans on pet store dog sales.
Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, a group that works closely with the AKC, says commercial breeders have improved practices in recent years — progress that she says is ignored by activists.
“They assume everybody who is selling dogs to pet stores and every pet store that sells them are engaged in some kind of horrific puppy mill kind of operation,” she says. “That’s not only not fair, it’s not true.”
In Miami, the city commission recently adopted a six-month moratorium on new pet stores selling dogs while it studies a permanent ban.
The future of these bans, though, may be decided not by local governments, but by the courts. Lawsuits filed by pet store owners are pending in Florida, Illinois and Arizona.