Utah’s most populous county banned the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores, joining a growing number of cities around the country in a step designed to reduce the number of pets born in inhumane conditions.
Some of the nation’s largest pet companies already have moved away from such sales in favor of offering animals from shelters, and a vote this week added Salt Lake County to a list of nearly 90 municipalities that have passed measures targeting so-called puppy and kitten mills. And that number is growing, advocates say.
“There are great pets that need a home. We don’t need to make more,” said Deann Shepherd, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Utah.
But pet stores say the rule, which also includes rabbits, unfairly targets local shops with a good track record on animal welfare.
“I don’t sell puppy-mill puppies,” Todd Poulsen, owner of Mark’s Ark Pet Store in Taylorsville, said Wednesday. “They want to close down their pet stores just in case we do.”
Pets from puppy and kitten mills are kept in crowded, unsanitary kennels and many don’t have adequate access to veterinary care, food or water, animal advocates say.
A shop called Puppies `N Love in Phoenix sued to challenge a similar ordinance passed in 2013, but a judge upheld it in July. U.S. District Judge David Campbell acknowledged that it will burden the business but said it was not the court’s place to judge the fairness of the city ban.
The measure in Utah applies to unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County. Though Poulsen’s store is not affected by the ban, he’s worried about it starting a domino effect of similar ordinances.
Leaders in Salt Lake City will likely consider passing a similar measure before early December, City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said.
There are no stores in the city or unincorporated parts of the county that actually sell commercially bred pets _ even though they are two of the biggest population centers in the state, officials said.
Two of the biggest pet retailers in the country, PetSmart and Petco, already have moved to offering shelter dogs.
Melanie Kahn, senior director of the anti-puppy mill campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, says that customers have heard about poor conditions at some commercial breeders, and they don’t want to risk getting a dog bred in inhumane conditions.
Kahn says pet store bans are an effective way to combat puppy and kitten mills, but store owners say it’s not fair to claim all dogs or cats for sale are bred in poor conditions.
A business that violates the ordinance could have its business license revoked, said Arlyn Bradshaw, the Salt Lake County councilman who proposed the rule. People who want a purebred dog or cat animal can still go to licensed breeders.
Bradhaw said he’s aware of only a few pet stores in northern Utah that sell commercially bred animals.
The council passed the measure on a 6-1 vote this week. Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said she would have preferred educating people about the issue instead.