Why Pet Shop Laws Affect You

Most breeders don’t think of themselves as having much in common with retail pet stores. But many anti-breeder extremists already consider you one, and a slew of legislation now appearing in dozens of communities across the country defines just about  anyone who  breeds or sells a dog as a retail pet store. 

Throughout the country, animal rights groups are pushing an initiative of local proposals that target retail pet stores as a way to put both dog breeders and retailers out of business.

Over the last year, dozens of local jurisdictions have considered proposals to ban the sale of pets at pet stores. Proponents justify the initiatives by claiming that sellers get their dogs from facilities they call “out-of- state puppy mills”. 

The current batch of anti- breeder proposals target legal and highly-regulated pet stores and professional breeders as being “puppy mills” or substandard dealers.  They also create new definitions for the terms “retail pet store”, “pet shop” or “pet seller”, which causes many breeders to think the laws don’t  impact them.  But if you look at the fine print, the definitions of breeders and retailers often include anyone who breeds or sells more than a few pets a year.

As the proposals move from community to community, the template stays largely the same. Proponents make inflammatory allegations about abuses by breeders (whom they call “puppy mills”), and offer a solution that ironically, bans the most regulated and vetted sources (including breeders and handlers subject to federal licensing) while urging the sales or adoption of animals obtained from sources that have little or no regulatory oversight and that are not subject to federal oversight, state consumer protection laws or other guarantees.

In essence, these retail pet store bans do the exact opposite of their purported intent:  They remove available consumer protections for new pet owners, limit the ability of pet owners to obtain the appropriate pet for their lifestyle, and potentially increase public health risks for the entire community

Increasingly, the measures also incorporate other detrimental restrictions such as requiring that any dogs sold be spayed/neutered prior to sale.  Since many puppies are sold at 8-12 weeks of age, this is tantamount to mandatory juvenile spay/neuter.  

The AKC believes the best way for a person to obtain a new pet is through personal interaction with the pet’s breeder and the pet under consideration. Years of restrictions on breeders in local communities have made obtaining a specific type of pet bred by a local breeder increasingly difficult. Today, it’s more important than ever that all dog lovers and those concerned about the future of our breeds work together to preserve the freedom of individuals to choose from a variety of pets and to find one that is the right match for each individual’s lifestyle.  Such pets can come from a variety of sources including direct from the breeder, from a retailer, from a shelter, or a rescue. 

When governments attempt to limit the legitimate sources from which a person may obtain a pet, it not only interferes with individual freedoms, it also increases the likelihood that a person may obtain a pet that is not a good match for their lifestyle, and the likelihood that that animal will end up in a shelter.

Let’s take a look at an example of a typical “pet store” proposal:  Currently, the Town of Hempstead, New York  is considering a typical proposal, which could be brought back for a hearing and further consideration in November.  Key components of the Hempstead proposal are similar to a measure passed less than a year ago in nearby New York City. They include:

  • Defining a “pet dealer” as anyone other than a shelter or rescue who sells, transfers or gives away more than 6 dogs a year.  For many breeds, this is just one litter.
  • Defining a “pet store” as an establishment owned or operated by a person who sells/transfers more than 6 dogs in a year, or sells/transfers 9 dogs that they have bred.  For example, any person who has a large litter of 10 puppies and sells, gives away or transfers 9 dogs would be defined and subject to licensing and regulation as a retail pet store – requirements that that could be almost impossible for residential or hobby breeders.
  • Requiring that “pet stores” spay or neuter all dogs before they are sold /transferred (generally at about eight weeks of age).  (Click here for information on the dangerous of neonatal spay/neuter .) An exception exists for dogs that have proven show records, notwithstanding that no puppy will have a show record at 8 weeks of age.
  • Prohibiting “pet stores” from selling dogs from breeders that do not have a USDA Class A license. This prohibits breeders who do not own or breed enough animals to qualify for a USDA license from selling dogs that they bred.  It also harms legitimate, responsible pet stores that obtain pets from highly-regulated professional breeders.

All dog lovers and community activists should be worried about these precedents. Definitions set the terms of debate – and proposals like this will harm responsible breeders, pet sellers,  the long term health of dogs in the community, and the community itself by forcing the majority of future pet owners to obtain pets from sources for which there is little or no oversight or consumer protection, including retail rescue and rescue imports.