A state legislative task force is looking at the origin of cats and dogs sold in Connecticut's pet shops, shedding light on the issue of puppy mills.
Many Connecticut residents see the issue as an ethical question of stopping puppy mills, a number of which have been found raising animals in inhumane conditions. Others argue that such a blanket edict could put state pet shops out of business. The issue, however, is not so black and white. Asking pet shops to update their business model by not selling commercially bred dogs and cats may actually allow the shops to flourish.
There are 16 pet shops in Connecticut that sell puppies. There are 114 additional pet stores that do not. Businesses in the latter category offer a wide range of pet food, supplies, training, classes, grooming services and more. Many even partner with local rescue groups to offer a chance to homeless animals. Customers drawn to these stores to adopt a new companion often stock up on food, toys, beds and expensive crates and carriers. These customers can shop with a clear conscience knowing they have patronized a store that supports adoption and rescue instead of puppy mills.
According to state law, all pet shops must post the name and address of the breeder and broker on cage cards for every commercially bred puppy for sale. This information can be traced on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's online database, where potential buyers will frequently find federal inspection violations listed against the breeder responsible for that cute puppy for sale. The puppy's parents may be victims of unimaginable neglect and suffering, including open wounds, absence of veterinary care, roach-infested food, filthy water dishes, rusty fences, and the list goes on.
The myth many customers still believe, however, is that a clean USDA report indicates a humane breeding environment. In fact, the USDA enforces only the regulations outlined by the Animal Welfare Act. These cringe-worthy standards require only six inches of space between the animal and the walls of its cage. Cages may be stacked up on top of each other, sit in complete darkness and often have wire floors that dig and cut in to the dogs' paws. The wire floors are a convenience for the owner, because they allow feces to fall below the cages for easier cleanup. The dogs typically do not experience love, companionship or a romp in the park. This is not just temporary housing — this is permanent, and it is legal. It is federally sanctioned cruel treatment.
There is no nationally recognized and adequately enforced standard for commercial breeders that exceeds the paltry Animal Welfare Act regulations. Even if Connecticut were to create its standards for breeders used by our pet stores, how would we possibly monitor the out-of-state breeders? Limiting pet shops to in-state breeders is forbidden by the Interstate Commerce Clause, which prohibits favoring the products of one state over another. There is no workable, regulated solution that would ensure pet shops are sourcing commercially bred animals humanely.
According to the dog-adoption preferences in the U.S., however, we may not need to dwell on this problem. A study published in the 2012 edition of the American Veterinary Medical Association's U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook showed 44.9 percent of Americans intend to get their next pet from shelters, 39.8 percent from rescue groups and 19.1 percent from breeders. Only 4.2 percent of those surveyed said they would obtain their next pet from a pet store.
Such statistics point to an overwhelming public consciousness of the need to choose pets responsibly. By embracing adoption and rescue principles, pet shops will better align themselves with the values of the customers they serve.
Humane businesses are not only kind and responsible, but they are achievable, and will serve as models for other states. Connecticut is poised to pass landmark legislation that will surely be the beginning of the end for sourcing dogs from puppy mills, and the launch of a new generation of progressive pet shops.
Heather Bradley of Guilford is the founder of the Connecticut Coalition Against Puppy Mills.