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Lisa Unleashed: Does California’s Puppy Mill Ban Really Help Dogs?

Published: November 19, 2017

As California goes, so goes the nation. I first heard that term about a decade ago as I went on national television to battle a proposed California law for mandatory spaying and neutering of all dogs kept as pets over a certain age. I’ve always been of the opinion that major surgery regarding your pet should be a decision left to its owner, not the government. Thankfully, we defeated that proposal. Last month, California became the first state to require pet stores to only sell dogs, cats, and rabbits that are sourced from shelters and rescue groups, not commercial breeders.

This particular law is labeled the “puppy mill ban,” because it forces pet stores to give up sourcing pets from USDA-regulated breeders who provide purebred or designer hybrid puppies. The law assumes that all breeders are running so-called “puppy mills,” meaning they don’t care about health, or care and conditions, and just want to make boatloads of money while poor dogs suffer. While there are bad apples out there, the majority of commercial breeders are highly regulated by federal, state, and local governments, with inspections and standardized rules and procedures. Unfortunately for the good apples, people who pass these laws define all breeders as puppy mills.

Since World War II, when the popularity of purebreds skyrocketed, along with easy government loans to returning soldiers who wanted to raise livestock, it was inevitable that, like every other product where demands outweighs supply, production will increase. With this increase in demand, quality decreases, and there are those that just do it for the money and the living creatures in their care suffer because there used to be very little oversight. Eventually, the USDA got involved with inspections, standardized rules and procedures, and more staffpower to enforce them. But still, keeping the quality up for all commercial kennels in the country was impossible, and many places did succumb to “puppy mill” status. The leery consumer had no way of knowing what the conditions were like where their dogs were coming from.

Some more recent federal laws provide that sales of puppies must be done face-to-face, so that you can see the product before purchase. But still, there is no way of knowing where your puppy comes from. That is why I find this California law ridiculous.

I think the best model to acquire a purebred dog for your family is to find a breeder who raises a litter in their home, socializes it, and then screens families for the best fit for the puppy they have nurtured for the first eight weeks of its life. To me, that is the only way, along with a visit to the home and establishing a relationship with the breeder, to truly know your puppy’s beginnings. You certainly don’t know at pet stores and you most likely will never find out at shelters or rescue groups.

But will the new law help dogs?

As I was reading about the new law I came across this article on the KQED California Public Radio website. In part it stated:

“Though California has fewer ‘puppy mills’ than other states, according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Senior Director of State Legislation Susan Riggs… Puppy mill pets raised in the Midwest often end up in California.” Then the article goes on to say: “Riggs says the new law will stop the flow of out-of-state pets into California outlets.”

Will it? I don’t think so. The premise behind these types of pet store bans (and there are dozens and dozens of municipalities across the country with similar laws) is to keep commercially bred purebreds and designer dogs (mixed-breeds) away from the consumer, whether the dog has been cared for properly or not. There is no distinction of quality. And, if all pet stores can sell are rescue dogs and those dropped off in shelters, you can bet many of those are going to come from out of state and even out of the country. There is a huge pipeline for shelter dogs coming into the United States from Mexico and Asia on the West Coast and a portion of those “rescue dogs” are specifically bred for sale in the retail shelter market. This law gets rids of regulated production in lieu of a mostly unregulated industry.

If lawmakers think that enacting bans in their state will put the commercial breeders — good or bad — out of business or will keep out-of-state dogs from coming into California, they are living in a fantasy world. The wholesale market that used to go to pet stores will now go directly to retail online, as it already has since the internet was born. And the more pet shops that can only sell “rescue” dogs, the more “rescue” dogs will be bred domestically, and imported from abroad, into the American market.

Hopefully, no other state will take this major legislation under consideration. The ban doesn’t close down commercial breeders and it certainly doesn’t improve the conditions for dogs anywhere. If anything, it creates new underground puppy mills that channel their products to the rescue retail market.

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses, and hounds at lisaunleashed.com. You can reach her at lisa.peterson@barngirlmedia.com.

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