February 1, 2015

Michele Lazarow, a local political figure in Hallandale Beach, Fla., has spearheaded a movement to totally ban the sale of dogs and cats in regions surrounding her constituency. Her efforts have spread along the Interstate 95 corridor, leading even the city government of Miami to contemplate drafting similar legislation. Lazarow and her allies in the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida emphasize the belief that pet stores acquire their animals from puppy mills, with sickly animals born into deplorable conditions.

What was most notable in this fight was the lack of response from local pet stores. As the issue raged on in the halls of Miami’s city council, CBS News Miami reported that, of the 13 stores in the greater Miami area that sell live pets, “none of the shopkeepers spoke at the meeting.” Not a single pet store owner stood up to defend and save their livelihoods.

Frank and Vicki Mineo, owners of Puppies ‘N Love in Phoenix, Ariz., are also dealing with this problem. Faced with crippling legislation that would ban the sale of live animals in their city, the Mineos countersued, resulting in a federal injunction barring the enforcement of a law that would decimate their business. However, the couple is now embroiled in a costly legal battle that may bring about the loss of their store even if they win the case.

Retail sales bans such as the ones proposed in Miami and Phoenix are slowly encroaching on the livelihoods of pet store owners in a way that can utterly cripple the industry. Much of this legislation is passed with little to no public awareness about it and without much needed input from ethical store owners who can inform and educate their communities. Oftentimes, anti-pet campaigns devolve into a lone pet store owner having to face off against a slew of misinformed animal rights activists who believe that they’re saving animals from a horrible fate.

Retailers that sell reptiles face a worse stigma. Turtles, bearded dragons and geckos are often blamed for salmonella outbreaks when it is often pet owners who fail to practice simple and proper hygiene. Snakes are often the source of such attacks which are mainly based on the irrational fears held by many Americans about these animals. Again, this can lead to legislation that adversely affects breeders and store owners.

So, what can we as an industry do in such adverse conditions?

We must unify. Organizations like the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) provide pet store owners with the opportunity to join a unified front against misinformation and unethical legislation. Mike Bober, executive vice president of PIJAC, exhorts them to “tap into the experience of a group that’s been fighting for you in numerous jurisdictions. All of us together are stronger than just one of us!” According to Bober, while many animal rights organizations have massive budgets and thousands of active demonstrators, pet store owners are at a disadvantage because they’re few and far between. “It’s a fight that doesn’t stop,” said Bober. “It’s hard to keep up the momentum, but people slowly fall back into routine—that’s why we need to be stronger and more united, not just when it’s in your neighborhood.”

Donations as well as active membership in organizations like PIJAC and USARK can also aid in waging these legal battles. In the case of the Mineos, PIJAC, along with the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), donated more than $125,000 toward fighting the proposed Phoenix legislation.

These organizations also provide numerous resources for stores not yet embroiled in legal fights in their cities. Something as simple as having a stack of flyers next to the register can help to inform your customer base if the local government is considering harmful legislation and lets people know how to fight against it.

Creating a relationship with local city council members is always beneficial. Making contact with even one legislator may help you to establish an ongoing dialogue that will bring attention to the difficulties you tackle as a small business owner and the ramifications you may face if confronted with anti-pet trade legislation.

With so much going on in the legal arenas surrounding the pet trade, the most important thing to remember in your efforts to remain viable is to start small. Engage your customers, establish an ongoing dialogue with your elected officials, and unify with organizations like USARK and PIJAC so that, should the worst occur, your business can stand strong.

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