Los Angeles is poised to become the largest city in the nation to ban pet shops from selling dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from commercial breeders.
On a 12-2 vote Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council tentatively adopted an ordinance that officials say will target puppy mills and will prevent tens of thousands of animals from being euthanized in city shelters each year.
Individuals still will be allowed to buy directly from breeders, but pet stores will be limited to selling animals obtained from shelters, humane societies and registered rescue groups. Stores violating the restrictions could face misdemeanor charges and a penalty of $250, which would increase with repeat offenses.
Animal rights activists pushed for the ban, arguing that Los Angeles could set an example for other large cities. Irvine, Hermosa Beach and West Hollywood are among the dozens of smaller cities that have imposed similar restrictions on pet shops.
Elizabeth Oreck, who lobbied for the ban on behalf of Best Friends Animal Society, said breeders frequently cut corners to keep costs low at the expense of the animals' health. "They're inbred, they're over-bred, they're irresponsibly bred," Oreck said.
Pet shop owners complained that the restrictions were unfair and unnecessary.
"It's just making us suffer," said Candice Ro, who owns Olympic Pet Shop in Koreatown. For 11 years, she said, her family has been selling Yorkshire terriers, English bulldogs and other puppies mostly acquired from local breeders who take good care of their animals.
"If we were getting puppy mill puppies that were sick, we wouldn't have stayed in business this long," she said.
Councilman Paul Koretz, a longtime supporter of animal rights, championed the ban and said lawmakers have a duty to stick up for animals who "cannot speak for themselves."
But Councilman Mitchell Englander, who opposed the ban, said the city lacksthe resources to enforce it. He complained that L.A. pet stores would be put at a competitive disadvantage during economically difficult times. He also said City Hall should focus on "core services."
City officials said the ban, which returns to the council for a final vote next week, could affect two dozen pet stores. The restrictions will be reviewed after three years, officials said, to determine if they are working and should be extended.