Editor’s Note: TheLiberalOC has accepted his opinion piece from Mike Bober, the CEO of the Pet Industry Association Joint Advisory Council; the LiberalOC accepts third party opinion pieces from a progressive/liberal/Democratic or non-partisan point of view. Here’s his column:
For months, California lawmakers have debated Assembly Bill 485, which bans the sales of cats, dogs, and rabbits from pet stores unless the pet is sourced from a rescue or shelter. This bill is set for a full Senate vote later this month.
AB 485 has launched a critical discussion about the future of pet ownership in California. The human-animal bond is significant to the happiness and health of millions of Californians, and therefore it is important that everyone has the same foundation of facts upon which to base their view.
National surveys show that just two percent of cats and four percent of dogs come from pet stores – one-seventh of the number that come from rescues and shelters, and less even than dogs sourced from breeders, friends and relatives, and off the streets.
In addition to being a small source of companion animals, pet stores are heavily regulated through multiple state statutes related to health, transparency, and consumer protections, making them California’s most regulated source of pets. Importantly, the state requires pet stores to provide a warranty for certain genetic and communicable diseases for cats and dogs, which holds them accountable for protecting animals and humans alike before, during, and after any sale.
These state measures are in addition to federal law that requires pet stores to source exclusively from U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed breeders or breeders too small to be licensed. Together, these statutes do an excellent job of preventing illegal and unethical breeders from providing unhealthy, mistreated animals to California’s pet lovers.
Despite providing a small fraction of America’s cats and dogs, pet stores are a disproportionately large source of pets for people who desire puppies and purebred dogs. Pet stores also help make pet ownership possible for poor Californians who cannot afford to travel to a breeder, but who require specific traits due to allergies, space considerations, or temperament, and who desire a partner in finding a healthy pet that they can care for throughout its life.
Proponents of AB 485 often cite a ban adopted by Los Angeles in 2012 as an example for state legislators. However, publicly available data shows that the Los Angeles ban on the sales of cats, dogs, and rabbits has borne mixed results – adoptions are down since the ban, and both intake of pets and euthanasia numbers were already dropping prior to its passage.
Regretfully, these and other facts have frequently been ignored during the debate over Assembly Bill 485. Additionally, despite the rhetoric, AB 485 does nothing to help pets and consumers – and may cause great harm. For example, under AB 485, the state’s current warranty protections would be unenforceable. Furthermore, since AB 485 does not require rescues and shelters to provide pets to stores, hundreds of Californians could be out of work should stores close due to lack of available animals.
Ironically, the bill’s sponsor rejected an amendment we proposed that would hold pet stores to higher standards of breeder sourcing and still allow them to thrive. That amendment could have been the start of a constructive dialogue between activists and industry and could even have implemented penalties for stores who fail to meet these standards.
Indeed, holding bad actors accountable is critical to members of the responsible pet trade. Contrary to much of the rhetoric surrounding AB 485, responsible retailers are more concerned than animal activists about bad actors. This is why some have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to put breeder information back online so that pet stores can comply with state laws and further assure customers that they are working only with ethical and legal breeders.
Pet stores have an important role to play in making sure healthy pets get to loving, forever homes. PIJAC has consistently urged pet stores to hold themselves and their breeder partners to the highest of transparency and care standards. And many pet store owners and employees personally visit and inspect breeders and distributors before sourcing pets from them.
Perhaps the worst part of AB 485 is how its unnecessarily broad prohibition on sales exclusively targets the parts of the pet industry that are already under the greatest public and private scrutiny. Taxpayer resources are limited, and would be better spent going after legitimately bad actors, such as a California rescue owner who was indicted on March 20 after allegedly engaging in illegal importation and substandard practices. Indeed, targeting pet stores will drive people to the same illegal and unethical people AB 485’s supporters want to stop.
As the owner of a shelter dog and the president of an organization dedicated to America’s pets and pet owners, I support greater oversight of all sources of companion animals. By exclusively targeting pet stores, AB 485 will do little besides worsen conditions for pets, people, and the business that connect them.
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade association with members in California and the surrounding states. PIJAC members include retailers, companion animal suppliers, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, manufacturers’ representatives, pet hobbyists, and other trade organizations.