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Opinion

Opinion: Puppy mills are hubs of animal cruelty. We don’t need their business in California

POMERANIA
Pomeranians being cared for at the Coastal Animal Services Authority in San Clemente in 2005 after being rescued from owners who later pleaded guilty to selling neglected and sick puppies.
(Los Angeles Times)

Puppy mills are essentially the factory farms of dog breeding. But shutting them down is almost impossible. California Assembly Bill 485 does the next best thing. It cuts off the supply of animals from those puppy mills into one of their biggest markets in the country—California pet stores. The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act, which was authored by Assembly Members Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) and Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills), would prohibit pet stores in the state from selling dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from commercial breeders, allowing them to carry only animals from shelters and rescue groups. The bill sailed through the Assembly and the Senate and now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. There’s no question that he should sign it.

The bill’s sponsor, Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation, says the bill will not only eliminate high-volume cruelly bred animals in pet stores but also “will allow over half a million pets normally euthanized annually in California a greater chance for adoption.” Other animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the U.S., support this bill.

This measure is crucial to thwarting the sale of puppies bred and raised under the notoriously deplorable conditions of high-volume commercial breeders. They overuse their female dogs and crowd animals into dirty, often fetid cages, all for the business of churning out sought-after pedigreed and designer puppies that can command thousands of dollars in pet stores.

Yes, these breeders must be inspected and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So must similarly-sized online sellers if their customers buy their pets sight unseen.

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However, the vast majority of commercial breeders don’t comply — about 80% of the estimated 10,000 U.S. commercial breeders go unlicensed. And for even the ones that do, the standards set by the Animal Welfare Act are so abysmally low that breeders can keep animals in cramped cages, give them water as infrequently as twice a day, and breed females continuously to the detriment of their health. The worst offenders, who fall short of even the minimal standards, get cited but may remain licensed despite repeated violations.

That’s why California needs this state law — to make up for a weak animal welfare law and ineffective federal enforcement. It would be the first statewide ban, however more than 200 jurisdictions across the country have ordinances similar to this one. At least 33 are California cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Irvine.

It may seem unfair to put the onus for stopping bad breeders on pet store owners who sell puppies that they buy legally from commercial breeders. Nor does it seem fair to cut off commercial breeders that are humane — assuming there are some. But the combination of low standards and lax enforcement has helped entrench the business of inhumanely manufacturing animals, particularly puppies. The abuses are so widespread that there’s no way for pet store shoppers or even the stores themselves to know for sure that the dogs they are buying were raised humanely. And there are plenty of ways for pet stores to make money besides selling live animals — they can sell food, toys and all manner of pet accessories that pet owners love to accumulate.

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Of course, bad breeders could still sell online — even though they are supposed to be inspected, maybe, once a year. But brick-and-mortar pet stores are a crucial outlet for these puppy mills, and they need to be cut off as soon as possible. Let’s worry about online sales separately.

And anyone who wants a pedigreed puppy can always find a responsible breeder — people who breed their female dogs carefully, offer plenty of space for their animals, and, most important, welcome you to come and see where their dogs are bred and raised.

California has an opportunity to stem the tide of animals coming out of these wretched puppy mills. Gov. Brown should sign this bill and let California do just that.

carla.hall@latimes.com

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