BOSTON (SHNS) – Aiming to crack down on puppy mills where dogs are bred in cramped spaces, lawmakers expressed optimism Wednesday that a compromise to regulate pet shops could gain traction on Beacon Hill this session.
New pet stores would be banned from selling dogs, cats and rabbits unless they come from shelters or rescue organizations under the proposals from Sen. Patrick O’Connor and Reps. Natalie Higgins and Kimberly Ferguson (S 549 / H 826).
Alternatively, O’Connor has also refiled legislation (S 550) that would apply to all pet stores, including existing businesses where activists and lawmakers say that animals are sourced from cruel commercial breeding facilities.
The Weymouth Republican, who said it’s his fourth time filing the pet store legislation, said both options are supported by a coalition of animal welfare activists.
But some pet store owners and a lobbyist for the pet industry oppose the bills, warning that even the compromise restrictions could unleash a bevy of new animal welfare problems, including a rise in unregulated or unlicensed breeders.
“Commercial pet shops in Massachusetts source their animals from out-of-state USDA-licensed commercial breeding facilities, and the USDA regulations that govern the standard of care and breeding of commercially retailed pets is woefully inadequate — almost disgusting,” O’Connor told the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources at a hearing Wednesday.
At those facilities, also known as puppy or kitten mills, O’Connor said animals receive inadequate veterinarian care, live in tight cages with little room to stand, and are exposed to sweltering or freezing temperatures. By the time animals make it to pet shops, they may have serious medical or behavioral health issues, which O’Connor said could result in steep veterinarian bills for unsuspecting consumers.
“Many of them are forced to relinquish their pet to a shelter or rescue organization, devastating the family and further damaging the animal’s quality of life,” O’Connor said. “It’s time for us to step up as Legislature and rid our state of the last lifeline that puppy mills have.”
Alyssa Miller-Hurley, senior director of government affairs at the trade association Pet Advocacy Network, said the proposals fail to adequately target puppy mills and bad actors who are not complying with breeding standards.
The proposals could also jeopardize protections for consumers, who may look for puppies online and be subject to puppy scams due to a lack of in-person options at pet stores where employees can assist them, Miller-Hurley warned.
Miller-Hurley said her association has the same goal of the bill supporters to ensure that “animals are well-loved and cared for, and only the responsible folks are the ones that are handling everything.”
“It’s not like we have a different goal — we just disagree on how we go about doing it,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re not creating new problems, and we want to make sure that we’re not preventing people from being able to choose what animal is best for them by removing a source, a highly regulated source, where they can go get whatever animal fits their lifestyle.”
Seven states have passed similar laws to restrict the retail sales of pets from puppy mills, as well as 11 Massachusetts municipalities, including Boston, Cambridge and Springfield, said Marie Claire Langlois, public policy specialist for a campaign to stop puppy mills that’s run by the Humane Society of the United States.
With those laws and other municipal restrictions in place, Langlois said there are now 32,000 fewer breeding dogs at USDA licensed facilities compared to 10 years ago, and consumers have gained new protections against misleading advertisements and potentially taking home sick puppies.
“Luckily, no pet store needs to sell puppies, and the vast majority of pet stores in Massachusetts already thrive on a products and services model,” said Langlois, who added about 40 pet stores in the commonwealth support the compromise pending bills. “These bills find the middle ground between supporting existing local businesses and protecting consumers from a genuine threat and any additional bad actors.”