Puppy mills. Two words that conjure up images of horrific living conditions and provoke strong emotions. Unfortunately, lawmakers, including some in Dallas, have been misled into equating them with licensed, inspected breeders rather than the illegal, substandard operations that the term aptly describes.
Lawmakers were misinformed that a ban on retail sales at pet stores would eliminate these subversive operations. Despite good intentions, these bans are not the solution. They are an emotional overreaction to a complex problem.
The animal welfare community has spent decades promoting false narratives about commercial dog breeders and their dealings with pet stores. I should know. I believed those same accusations for over 40 years. Throughout my career, I have fully supported anti-pet store campaigns. Finally, someone asked me if I had ever visited a USDA licensed commercial breeder.
The truth was, I hadn’t.
I have now had the opportunity to meet dozens of licensed breeders. I have met hardworking and skilled professionals who share the same love and dedication to animal welfare as I do. They have state-of-the-art facilities with consulting veterinarians, spacious kennels, exercise classes, and compassionate staff. They are the exact opposite of what decades of erroneous claims have made of them.
Eight years ago, the Humane Society of the United States launched the retail ban concept currently proposed for Dallas. However, the bans did not put puppy mills out of business. Why? Retail bans take the misguided approach of targeting the smallest and most regulated source of obtaining puppies: retail stores. In the United States, only 4% of puppies are purchased from pet stores, according to the American Pet Products Association’s US Pet Ownership Survey. This means that 96% is acquired from other sources.
You cannot eliminate puppy mills by targeting the smallest source of puppies in the environment least likely to be connected to puppy mills. After 40 years of advocating for dog adoption, adoption is still my first choice. But adoption isn’t always right for everyone, and these families should have safe and responsible choices.
If Dallas bans puppy retail, very few stores will be affected. By my reckoning, only one store in Dallas could be forced to close, the Petland franchise in Preston Road and Forest Lane because, according to franchise owner Jay Suk, 80% of the store’s sales are puppies.
The franchise is owned by a man who has dedicated 13 years of his life to the business and employs 30 people who will lose their jobs if it closes. He buys his puppies from the best licensed and USDA inspected breeders and from small hobby breeders. He consults inspection reports and makes on-site visits to ensure that he acquires only the best breeders.
Retail pet stores such as Petland must also comply with state and local animal welfare laws as well as consumer protection laws.
If we have any chance of eliminating puppy mills, animal welfare organizations, USDA-certified breeders, and pet stores need to work together.
Retail bans haven’t put puppy mills out of business. Instead, bans tend to push the demand for puppies into the abyss of the unknown and unregulated. Instead of enacting a retail ban, Dallas could consider breeder and retail regulations such as those passed by the state of Ohio and worked well there for several years.
We need standards that keep animals safe, give consumers the choices they deserve and support the growth of responsible businesses. We don’t need to do grand gestures like banning the retail sale of puppies, which serves no purpose.
Ed Sayres is executive director of Petland Charities. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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