SAN FRANCISCO — As Philip Gerrie tells it, the idea of banning pet sales in San Francisco started simply enough, with a proposal to outlaw puppy and kitten mills.
West Hollywood, Calif. had done it, with little fanfare. Why not the city of St. Francis, patron saint of animals, which prides itself on its compassion toward all creatures great and small?
So Gerrie, a bee keeper and secretary of the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control & Welfare, a seven-member advisory board on animal issues to the city's lawmakers, decided to suggest adding the idea to the commission's agenda.
"Then we came across the idea of adding small animals as well," Gerrie recalled, "since all these animals are being euthanized" by animal shelters.
The proposed ban on puppy and kitten mills became a proposed ban on the sale of just about every animal that might end up in a shelter: gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, hamsters, turtles, snakes, rats. Sales of rabbits and chicks are already banned in the city.
The idea came back to bite the commission. It led to the panel's biggest, longest monthly meeting in recent memory, not to mention blogger fodder around the world.
Animal control and welfare commissioners say all they planned to do at their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday evening was discuss the idea, hear out those on all sides of the issue – pet store owners, rescue groups, pet owners and maybe, just maybe, take a vote on a ban.
After a vote, the proposal would have to find a sponsor, preferably two, on the Board of Supervisors, pass muster as legislation with the city attorney, and then pass the Board.
But once Gerrie's idea made the front page of The San Francisco Chronicle Thursday – "Sell a guinea pig, go to jail," the story began – it was famous.
Or infamous. The Chronicle story prompted 793 comments and counting, many playing on only-in-San Francisco stereotypes. "Bay area people truly are nuts!" read a common refrain. It prompted CNN's Jack Cafferty, who called the idea "not half bad," to ask readers their thoughts, prompting 15 printed out pages of debate from around the globe.
And the commission's regularly scheduled meeting, usually attended by a handful of spectators, became a standing room only spectacle of close to 100 people, with some spilling into the hallways, and speakers lined up for hours.
The guinea pig rescue people showed up. The rabbit rescue folks came. The bird rescue people showed up in force, including Mira Tweti, who decried the plight of captive parrots and how often they are dumped by owners who find them too demanding.
"I thought it was the longest meeting we've ever had," Gerrie said, adding that he thought the several hours were productive, brought a lot of attention to the issue nationwide and "got people talking."
And yet, he said, "I would love to get this behind me."
That will have to wait a little while. The commission, overwhelmed with varying opinions, voted not to vote, tabling the debate until at least another month.