As the CEO of the Northeast's largest wholesale distributor of aquatics and pets, I have worked with Connecticut pet store owners for decades. These committed entrepreneurs, tireless workers and compassionate pet owners operate responsibly and with the best interests of their animals in mind. But misguided activists are desperate to recast store owners who sell puppies and kittens as dispassionate, removed, careless capitalists.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Think about it: Who has more interest in seeing the bad sources of dogs and cats put out of business than responsible store owners?
Last year, the General Assembly created a task force concerning the sale of cats and dogs at Connecticut pet shops. This study group was co-chaired by state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, who told me and colleagues that if the only thing she ever does as a legislator is prohibit pet shops from selling puppies and kittens, she would die happy. The deck was stacked against store owners, with representatives from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and others with an activist agenda.
Despite this slant, the pet industry successfully raised several initiatives embraced by the task force. One empowers the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to adopt regulations for our in-state breeders of dogs and cats, which we do not have.
Another initiative continues a requirement that all out-of-state sources of animals sold in pet shops be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It would also prohibit sourcing from breeders who have recent, uncorrected USDA inspection violations that are harmful to animals. This makes good sense: in recent years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has increased its staffing and stepped up enforcement to protect animals that find their forever homes with Connecticut families through the state's highly regulated pet shops.
The protection of our pets is our highest priority, and the enforcement of appropriate consequences for anyone who violates state law is essential. That's why we proposed additional funding for the state Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Control — to protect the health and well-being of all pet animals bought and sold in Connecticut.
Now that the legislature's Environment Committee is reviewing the task force report and drafting legislation, however, there are recommendations that are ill-advised and detrimental to the state and pet owners.
First, as a "compromise" to activists who want all current stores closed, there is a prohibition against new pet stores specializing in specific pets, such as hypo-allergenic breeds (for allergy sufferers) or specific breeds that are family favorites. This would restrict Connecticut citizens' ability to obtain the pets they want.
Even worse is a recommendation requiring all pet stores to sell dogs and cats sourced exclusively from rescues or shelters. This severely limits pet choice and forces consumers who want purebred puppies to purchase from the black market, rogue Internet sites, parking lots (congratulations to our Department of Agriculture for making a recent arrest) — or pet shops in neighboring states.
Some Connecticut families want shelter or rescue pets. Some do not. The choice should be theirs. And the fact is, there are good and bad actors among shelters and rescuers, too. Waterbury's animal shelter has been quarantined due to disease 10 times in less than three years, and the director of the Connecticut Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was convicted in January on 15 counts of animal cruelty.
Among the many regulations governing Connecticut pet shops is a very effective warranty law — evidence demonstrates it is rare, indeed, when a sick animal is sold by a Connecticut pet store. Of the more than 7,000 puppies sold in Connecticut in 2012 (the last year with complete records), the Department of Agriculture received only eight health-related complaints against pet stores, as reported by the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research. Clearly, pet stores are providing healthy puppies to consumers.
Connecticut should continue to allow highly regulated pet stores to provide healthy, purebred animals to the public, prohibit bad breeders (both in and out of state) from selling animals, and give our Department of Agriculture funding to inspect and regulate all sources of pets in our state.
Laura "Peach" Reid is president and CEO of Fish Mart Inc. in West Haven.