By Mike Bober
The American Pet Product Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey estimates total pet expenditures in the United States for 2015 at $60.59 billion dollars. Of this enormous figure, $2.19 billion is attributed to all “live animal purchases,” regardless of species.
One might wonder, then, why we as an industry should be concerned about the recent push to enact pet sale bans at the local level when they target a relatively small part of the industry.
The answer is easy: pet sale bans are the most visible of a number of ways in which well-meaning elected officials are making it harder for the public to obtain responsibly raised and acquired companion animals as pets. Overly broad “dangerous/wild animal” listings, arbitrary restrictions on collection or transport and breed-specific ownership prohibitions are others. These ordinances and regulations attempt to address a complex issue in simple terms and are often subject to misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
While the immediate impact of these types of legislation is felt by few of us, their repercussions are widespread. Whether you are a food or product manufacturer, a service provider or even a retailer whose inventory doesn’t happen to include live animals, your customers are pets and pet owners. And that’s why it’s important that policymakers get it right when it comes to companion animal laws.
In recent years, there have been more than 120 municipalities that have imposed restrictions or outright prohibitions on pet sales within their jurisdictions. They range from small towns like Hypoluxo, Florida, and Memphis, Michigan, to big cities like Boston and Los Angeles.
In each case, local elected officials expressed the belief that passing this legislation would help to crack down on bad breeders and address the issue of animal overpopulation.
Supporters of these ordinances, often including those who lobbied the lawmakers to introduce them in the first place, offered testimony describing deplorable conditions and callous disregard for animal care at substandard breeding facilities. They suggested—or, in some cases, explicitly stated—that these conditions were standard operating procedure for breeders who sell to pet stores.
That testimony has had its desired effect on public opinion. Commercial breeders are all painted with the same broad brush, with epithets like “puppy mill” being used casually by journalists covering these ordinances without distinction between responsible and irresponsible, licensed and illegal. The United States Department of Agriculture and the standards imposed on breeders by the Animal Welfare Act are routinely denigrated as ineffective and inadequate, often in the text of the ordinances themselves. The public believes that animal overpopulation is a reality in their own backyard, despite the fact that many shelters and rescues now regularly import dogs from other states and countries to maintain sufficient numbers of adoptable animals.
In reality, less than five percent of dogs acquired annually come from pet stores, who are required to source from roughly 2,000 USDA-licensed breeders and distributors or from small hobby breeders. These represent a fraction of the “as many as 10,000” breeders nationwide claimed by activists.
Additionally, more than two-thirds of the jurisdictions that have imposed these sales restrictions did so preemptively, including cities like Boston and Pittsburgh. These measures, which prevent any stores from opening in a given jurisdiction, don’t have any direct impact on demand—they can’t. Even in a city like Los Angeles, where a pet sale ban affecting multiple pet stores passed in 2012, there are ongoing issues with pet relinquishment rates, indicating that the stores were not a major contributor to shelter intake figures in the first place.
So why do pet sale bans matter? They matter because of what they’re doing to shape the perception of the responsible pet industry. They send the message that licensed, inspected commercial breeders are inherently bad actors and that the USDA is not to be trusted. This undermines public confidence in purpose-bred dogs and drives them toward unregulated sources—often the very same illegal operators who were held up in the first place as the reason these bans were needed.
They also send the message that all—and I do mean all—of us in the pet industry are driven by profits instead of passion for animals. We don’t just care about animals; we care for them on a daily basis. When we can’t offer that care consistently and without reservation, it’s the pets who suffer most.
For more information, please reach out to us at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council or visit us at www.pijac.org. We’re working to educate lawmakers about these issues before legislation arises and we need your help.