On October 13, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act (also called AB 485). When the law takes effect in 2019, pet shops in California will only be allowed to offer puppies, kittens, and rabbits that come from local shelters and rescues.
As the only nonprofit investigating undercover inside California pet shops and inside the mills supplying them, CAPS has been talking about this important bill throughout 2017. We also provided California lawmakers with extensive evidence and testimony critical to the law’s passage. But now we want to discuss what led to this historic moment and its national impact.
First, a quick history on puppy mills:
Puppy mills are breeding facilities that mass-produce puppies—usually prioritizing profits over the health and well-being of the dogs. Puppy mills originated in the 1950s when pig and poultry farmers started breeding dogs for extra money. Since 1970, the USDA has regulated puppy mills and is supposed to protect the dogs inside them. But it doesn’t. The animals in most USDA-licensed puppy mills spend their lives in crowded cages, exposed to the elements, and denied proper veterinary care. Female dogs are bred as often as possible, with little or no recovery time between litters. Because of this, mothers and their puppies often suffer from malnutrition, chronic stress, and exhaustion. When mother dogs cease to produce enough puppies, they are usually killed.
The majority of USDA-licensed puppy mills are found in the Midwest, where other factory-farmed animals are raised. The dogs’ unsanitary confinement often results in puppies who are sick and difficult to socialize. Federally licensed brokers transport the puppies across the country to be sold in pet shops. Unsuspecting customers purchase the puppies and may get stuck with staggering vet bills or a dog with aggressive behavior. Often, these customers are forced to abandon their animals at shelters, where three million dogs and cats are annually euthanized.
Half a million puppies are born in puppy mills every year.
Since 1992, CAPS has been investigating puppy mills and pet shops. The link between the two is important to understand. Pet shops are the financial lifeline of mills. Yes, puppy mills also sell some animals online, but mills primarily exist to supply pet shops—and not just with dogs, there are kitten and rabbit mills, too. (See this blog about kitten mills to learn more.)
CAPS investigation of pet shops in Southern California
Without the pet shop market, puppy mills would likely collapse. This is why CAPS has spent decades exposing puppy mills and pressuring pet shops to stop using them. In some cases, the public outcry from our investigations has led to the closure of pet shops like Docktor Pet Center, whose chain of 300 stores went bankrupt. In other instances, we have convinced pet shops to offer shelter dogs for adoption instead of selling dogs from mills. This is what happened in parts of Los Angeles. But eight years ago, CAPS added another strategy to our efforts: Ordinances.
Ordinances are laws passed by a municipal authority, such as a city council. CAPS began pushing for ordinances in cities and counties to ban the sale of certain animals in pet shops. We started in West Hollywood, California, providing lawmakers with our investigative evidence on the pet shop in their city and on the commercial breeders and brokers who supplied it. This kicked off the pet shop ordinance movement in over 230 municipalities in the United States and Canada. CAPS generated laws in Los Angeles, San Diego, and in other California cities and counties, as well as in New York, Illinois, and Florida.
While the piecemeal process of going town to town has put financial pressure on mills—since 2009 the number of USDA-licensed breeding and brokering facilities has dropped from 5,000 to 3,000—it has also led to a game of whack-a-mole. When a municipality bans the sale of animals, some pet shops will relocate to a nearby town where it’s still legal. That’s what one California pet shop owner named David Salinas has been doing for years. He initially sold puppies in San Diego, but he’s had four stores shuttered due to retail ban ordinances. Every time, he has opened other stores to replace them.
CAPS investigation of California pet shops owned by David Salinas
As the above video shows, David Salinas sells puppy mill dogs, despite what he tells his customers. This sort of deception is common because pet shops don’t want customers to discover the source of the puppies. Pet shops often mislead costumers by claiming that their animals come not from puppy mills, but from responsible “USDA-licensed breeders.” But as CAPS has proven over-and-over, most USDA-licensed breeding facilities are in fact puppy mills. Plus, a responsible breeder would never sell a puppy through a pet shop. The breeder would want to screen potential buyers to ensure that their puppies go to a good home.
The only way to rid California of these deceitful pet shop practices was to pass a statewide retail ban. Thanks to the earlier spread of municipal ordinances like the ones created by CAPS, state lawmakers had a template to draw upon. With the signature of Governor Brown, it’s now official. Starting January 1, 2019, pet shops in California will only be able to offer puppies, kittens, and rabbits that come from local shelters and rescues. This will all but shut the puppy mill industry out of California and save the lives of countless shelter animals. It will also reduce the estimated $250 million spent annually by California taxpayers to house and euthanize animals in shelters. But what will the impact be beyond California’s borders?
By denying puppy mill breeders a massive pet shop market like California, the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act will undoubtedly cut into the mills’ profits. But puppy, kitten, and rabbit mills will persist as long as there are enough animal-selling pet shops in other parts of the country. Thankfully, other states are looking to follow California’s lead. CAPS is already working with officials in New York and Massachusetts to get similar statewide legislation passed, and we continue to work with cities and counties to pass local laws.
The only way to stop the cruel puppy mill/pet shop cycle is to get more states and cities to pass laws banning the retail sale of animals. You can help speed up the process. If you would like to see a pet shop ordinance in your area, there are two things you can do.
1). Contact CAPS to let us know about any pet shops in your area that sell animals. We can investigate them to gather evidence, then approach your city council with an effective ordinance strategy.
2). If you have purchased a sick or dying puppy or kitten from a pet shop, please fill out a CAPS complaint form. We will use this information to support our ordinance work and our efforts to pass statewide legislation. If more states follow California’s lead, it could be a crippling blow to puppy mills.
When consumers buy puppies and kittens from pet shops, they condemn the parents of those animals to inhumane treatment in mills. By its very nature, the pet shop and puppy mill industry creates an endless cycle of animal overpopulation, mistreatment, and consumer deceit, causing needless shelter euthanasia and costing defrauded consumers millions of dollars a year. California’s Pet Rescue and Adoption Act is a monumental step in the direction of a world without puppy and kitten mills. Help us make that a reality.
Please make a donation towards our legislative initiatives. Let us know if there’s a pet shop near you that needs investigating. And if you’re looking to add a companion animal to your family, go to petfinder.com for a list of shelters and rescues in your area. Adopt, don’t shop.
With your help, we can end the needless suffering of companion animals.