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San Diego Moves to Ban Puppy Mill Sales

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Puppy mills and pet factories are likely to lose yet another important market in the ongoing battle between animal protection advocates, consumer protection advocates and the $84 billion pet trade industry.

San Diego's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee passed a resolution yesterday to move forward on its Pet Shop Ordinance, which, if passed, would make San Diego the 32nd city in the nation with an anti-puppy mill ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would make it:

"unlawful for any person to display, offer for sale, deliver, barter, auction, give away, transfer or sell any live dog, cat or rabbit in any pet shop, retail business or other commercial establishment located in the city of San Diego, unless the dog, cat or rabbit was obtained from a city or county animal shelter or animal control agency, a humane society or a nonprofit rescue organization."

In layman terms: Cats, dogs and rabbits bred in commercial breeding facilities, otherwise known as puppy mills or pet factories, would no longer be sold in pet stores. Instead, pet stores would be allowed to sell or adopt out pets that are from the municipal shelter system or from a rescue organization.

The ordinance is a result of the a joint effort by national and local animal protection organizations including the Companion Animal Protection Society, the Animal Defense Team, the San Diego Humane society and the Animal Protection and Rescue League.

Enthusiastic councilmember Marti Emerald told me on the phone that she is confident about getting the ordinance passed by city council by the end of the summer. "We've got the votes to get it through committee today," she said, and "nothing is certain in government but I do feel confident that my colleagues will see the importance of this, for the welfare of animals and consumers."

"There are many stores not standing behind the pets they sold -- the conditions under they're born and bred. When you buy an animal, it becomes part of the family and then when it gets sick, if you bring it back to the pet store, you know they're going to put it down or stick it back in the window to sell it to someone else. Let's be fair to consumers and kind to animals."

Sydney Cicourel, San Diego coordinator for the Companion Animal Protection Society, has been working with the committee since June 2012. CAPS introduced the ordinance to city on March 13 after filing a report based on its two-year investigation of puppy mills that supply pet stores in Southern California. "We got the ordinance we wanted," she said last night. "Getting it passed has been hard work but when I come home and look in the eyes of my little puppy mill dog, it makes me happy to have participated in making the sale of puppy mill dogs illegal in my city."

"I wanted to take up this issue because it's simply the right thing to do," Councilmember Lori Zapf told me via email. "I recently adopted a rescue puppy for my daughters, and our whole family fell in love with this adorable dog. I can't imagine looking into my daughters' eyes, like so many parents who have unknowingly purchased a puppy mill puppy from a pet store, and explaining that our cute little dog has epilepsy, or heart disease, and we're going to have to put it down."

Gary Weitzman, president of the San Diego Humane Society, told KBPS the ordinance would help find more homes for the 45,000 animals that come through the shelter system in San Diego County. Inexplicably, and in a reversal of mainstream animal protection policy, Weiztman called for an exemption for "small" and "reputable" breeders.

Many commercial breeders, in an effort to dupe consumers, refer to themselves as "small, home breeders." Undercover investigations by the Companion Animal Protection Society reveal that the the number of animals being abused in substandard commercial facilities has little to do with the level of abuse practiced there. A commercial breeder can abuse 20 dogs as easily as it can abuse 200.

The question of enforcement of the San Diego ordinance still needs to be ironed out. John Maher, general counsel for the Companion Animal Protection Society, told me on the phone last night that "CAPS did ask for a specific enforcement mechanism and schedule of fines as a deterrent."

"We'll be talking more about the enforcement," Councilmember Emerald told me.

"We must have the ability to enforce this -- we need to be able to keep an eye on things. Right now there are only a couple of stores left in San Diego that sell from puppy mills or kitten mills. We have street vendors too, some of them bringing in puppies over the border -- claiming that they have puppies who need homes. We want to control that too, here along the border."

The ordinance will not pass without opposition from the pet trade industry. Mike Canning, CEO of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council said the proposed ordinance stems from "puppy market competition." He will be representing a local pet store owner, David Salinas, at the committee hearing. "Shelters and other types of rescues -- they sell a lot of animals, and sometimes for $400 or $500 or $600," Canning told KPBS. "So they're competition to David. So what they do is they try to drum up the misnomer that all of David's puppies come from substandard breeders and then legislation occurs."

PIJAC, a lobbying consortium of commercial animal enterprises, has a record of fighting any and all animal protection legislation.

In a stinging slap to the animal protection community, PETCO, which partners with rescue organizations on in-store adoptions, announced its opposition to the legislation, stating their "concerns about the ordinance." Rescuers who do adoptions at PETCO expressed outrage on Facebook last night, calling the corporation "traitors," "hypocrites" and "corporate scum" for "throwing small animals and puppy mill dogs under the bus."

PETCO, one of the largest pet supply chains in America, with 1,200 stores, sells factory farmed animals such as exotic birds and reptiles, and small mammals not protected by the Animal Welfare Act. PETCO is on the board of directors of PIJAC.

With San Diego inching toward a pet factory sales ban, more cities, pressed by a growing movement towards ethical business models, must make bold decisions to stand on the side of justice against special interests. If the monumental legislative changes that have recently taken place in 31 cities are any indication of current trends, it looks like the animals are scoring big time.

Link to ordinance.

This post originally appeared on Examiner.

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