Lawmakers in Massachusetts are working to find a compromise between pet industry lobbyists and animal welfare activists. The proposed legislation works to combat commercial breeders, also known as puppy mills, while still supporting the pet industry.
Lawmakers target dog breeders
Last week, lawmakers re-introduced legislation banning new pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits unless they come from rescue organizations or animal shelters. Senator Patrick O’Connor and Representatives Natalie Higgins and Kimberly Ferguson introduced the measures (S 549 / H 826), according to NBC Boston. As an alternative proposal, Senator O’Connor refiled Senate Bill 550, which would ban all pet stores, including existing businesses, from selling animals sourced from commercial breeding facilities. Both options received support from animal welfare activists.
However, some pet store owners and industry lobbyists expressed disapproval of the proposals. They argued that even the compromise restrictions could result in a number of new animal welfare issues, such as an increase in unregulated or unregistered breeders.
O’Connor, a Republican from Weymouth, firmly stated his views on the proposal. “Commercial pet shops in Massachusetts source their animals from out-of-state USDA-licensed commercial breeding facilities,” the Senator explained. “The USDA regulations that govern the standard of care and breeding of commercially retailed pets is woefully inadequate — almost disgusting.”
The scale of U.S. puppy mill operations
Earlier this year, NPR reported that over 2.6 million dogs in the United States come from commercial breeders. Countless stories from puppy and kitten mills provide evidence of inadequate veterinary care and inhumane living conditions.
Senator O’Connor further explained to NBC Boston that these animals, upon arriving at pet stores, may have a number of medical or behavioral conditions. Not only is this inhumane, but unsuspecting customers may face a number of unexpected and costly veterinary expenses.
“Many of them are forced to relinquish their pet to a shelter or rescue organization, devastating the family and further damaging the animal’s quality of life,” O’Connor said. Emboldened, he added, “It’s time for us to step up as Legislature.” The Senator is charging his fellow elected officials to “rid our state of the last lifeline that puppy mills have.”
Legislation receives pushback
Alyssa Miller-Hurley, senior director of government affairs at the trade association Pet Advocacy Network, stated the proposals fail to sufficiently target puppy mills and breeders who do not follow industry standards. Additionally, she suggested the proposals jeopardized consumer safeguards. As a result of the current proposal, customers may resort to finding backyard breeders. Alternatively, they could become victims of online puppy scams due to the lack of in-person options.
“It’s not like we have a different goal — we just disagree on how we go about doing it,” Miller-Hurley stated.
According to Marie Claire Langlois, public policy specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, seven states have passed similar legislation. They are joined by 11 Massachusetts municipalities, including Boston, Cambridge, and Springfield. Langlois claims that there are now 32,000 fewer breeding dogs in USDA-licensed facilities than there were ten years ago. Moreover, consumers also have new safeguards against misleading advertisements and potentially purchasing sick puppies.
“Luckily, no pet store needs to sell puppies,” Langlois added. “The vast majority of pet stores in Massachusetts already thrive on a products and services model.” She also explained that 40 pet stores in the state support the compromise pending bills.
“These bills find the middle ground between supporting existing local businesses and protecting consumers from a genuine threat and any additional bad actors.”