New ‘puppy mill’ pet store ban passes, while animal advocates debate exemption to the law
by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~
The Oceanside, California city council decided last night to ban the sales of dogs and cats from high-volume commercial breeders. Exemptions under the new ordinance allow for sales of animals from smaller-scale breeders, as well as from shelters or rescue organizations.
Concerned citizens and leaders from both sides of the issue presented their views to the council before the vote was taken, with three council members in favor, and two opposed.
“This is really an injustice to the public,” objected David Salinas, owner of local store Oceanside Puppy. “People should have the right to choose to buy a puppy from a legitimate pet store that works with legitimate licensed breeders, or go adopt. I mean we’re all for adoption, but that option is not for everybody. Unfortunately this small group of people [animal advocates] are dictating to everybody that they should only adopt a puppy, and that’s unfair.”
Salinas said he will continue operating Oceanside Puppy during the six months he is given to close it. He plans to obtain an injunction to prevent the ordinance from being implemented, and to file suit against the city.
Last year Salinas sued the city of San Diego for passing a similar ordinance that prohibited his store San Diego Puppy from operating. He later dropped the suit.
Some animal advocates ‘very happy’
Animal advocate Leslie Davies, a local schoolteacher, said she and her group are “very, very, very happy. I think this was the right thing to do at the right time.”
When Oceanside Puppy opened in September of 2013, Davies began leading demonstrations outside the store nearly every weekend. Then she spearheaded a campaign to get the ordinance introduced. It failed on a first attempt at passage last year because there was not enough support on the council.
Next Davies targeted the election of council candidate Chuck Lowery, who had promised to support the ban, and mobilized her followers to help get the vote out for him. Lowery won the seat in November, defeating council member Gary Felien, who had previously opposed the pet store ordinance. Lowery’s “yes” vote last night tipped the scales in favor of the new law.
“I’m a little disappointed about the exemption [allowing for sales of animals from breeders with 20 or fewer dogs on their properties],” Davies admitted, “but it could prove to be very beneficial in the long run. It might save our city some money, and it might be saving us from having an injunction, so he [Salinas] might have to close his doors in six months.”
Davies and others believe the exemption might serve to limit monetary damages the city might have to pay Salinas if he were to successfully sue to block the ban. Also Davies feels that having some law in place is better than nothing, so as to stop the influx of puppies whom she alleges come from neglected, mistreated parent dogs who spend their lives in dangerous cages at commercial breeding facilities, or “puppy mills.”
Some advocates concerned about the exemption in the law
Long-time anti-puppy mill activist Judie Mancuso of Social Compassion in Legislation said she opposes the ordinance in its current form, because of the exemption allowing stores to sell animals coming from breeders who have up to 20 dogs on their properties.
“It just defeats the whole purpose and the intent of the law, because you can’t regulate it,” said Mancuso. “If someone in the Midwest says ,’Oh yeah, I only have 15 dogs on the property,’ but they actually have 50 that are living in distress, Oceanside’s not going to know that. So to be able to regulate this 20 or less thing is a fallacy. I want to see good policy set, not just any policy.”
Mancuso said it would be far better to restrict stores to selling only animals from shelters and rescue groups, which would make the ordinance easier to enforce, since the source of the animals could be more easily identified. She plans to “put pressure on so that they [the council] take this exemption out in the next hearing.”
Elizabeth Oreck, National Manager of Puppy Mill Initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society also has reservations about the ordinance.
“I think tonight was a good step forward,” said Oreck. “It wasn’t the large step that we were hoping for, but it’s a good, solid step and hopefully we can come back and get that exemption taken out, then it will be a truly clean ordinance that will really have the desired impact for the animals and for the people of Oceanside.”
In response to arguments that allowing stores to sell animals from smaller breeders will help ward off lawsuits against the city, Oreck pointed out, “All the other 17 cities in California that have done this [enacted similar bans] have strict guidelines. Pet stores cannot sell dogs or cats, and in some cases rabbits, unless the animals come from shelters or rescue groups. There are no loop holes, no gaps in interpretation, just very simple and easy to enforce.”
Oreck added that Best Friends and other advocates will make appeals for public support so as to persuade the council to remove the exemption.
‘Not the kind of business we want in Oceanside’
Mayor Jim Wood’s reaction to the evening’s decision was optimistic. “What we did is a big improvement over what we had. They [pet stores] now aren’t going to get dogs from anywhere that looks like a puppy mill. It’s all about the animals, about the cruelty we see coming out of puppy mills. So I think we did the right thing tonight. It could have been fine-tuned a little better, and we might revisit it later, but for now it is what it is.”
Local activist Rebekah Snyder, an active-duty U.S. Marine who is stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton, also said she was pleased with the new ordinance. Snyder participated in the demonstrations at Oceanside Puppy every weekend for six months, during a part of the year when she was not deployed in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s monumental.” she said. “This store has only been in business for about 16 months, and in about 16 months the city of Oceanside has been able to say, ‘This is not the kind of business we want, morally ethically, or financially.’ So it feels great.”
Demonstration leader Davies plans to focus her group’s efforts next on getting bans passed in neighboring Carlsbad and National City in southern San Diego county, where Salinas operates another puppy sales store.
An ‘American right’
Salinas maintains he wants to fight the new law because he feels “passionate” about his right to own and operate stores that sell purebred puppies from USDA-approved commercial breeders.
“This is more than about me and my little pet stores,” Salinas told Animal Issues Reporter in an interview after the vote. “This is an American right. What is the American dream? To have your business, or to work for a business, make money, to provide for your family. You know, to do what you want to do. We are not a communist country where the government can just overtake you and say, “You know what? We don’t like the way you’re doing business,” and take away your license. This is an American issue.”
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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).
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