It all sounded so good that Los Angeles City Council members dared not question Councilman Paul Koretz’ recent motion to ban all puppy, kitten, rabbit and chicken mills and the sale of all commercial, mill-bred animals in these categories within the city limits.
Mr. Koretz stated, “The City should now look at what it can do to combat the abuses associated with the mills and the ways they negatively impact the humane treatment and pet overpopulation in our community.”
Pet shops are the direct target in the lengthy preamble describing the breeding of hundreds or thousands of puppies and kittens in “factory farms” and the “…very lucrative interstate and international market in these innocent animals that provides pet shops with very profitable stock.”
Koretz called it a “win-win for the city.” Councilman Tony Cardenas added that this would be a model for the rest of the country. “All too often unsuspecting pet owners are supporting greedy and cruel puppy mills. I want that to end in Los Angeles,” he declared.
But political reality was not lost on Councilmen Ed Reyes who joined in approval of the concept but tempered the effusion with a cold, hard fact—the measure must include enforcement mechanisms. “I have seen us pose policies that are very well written, very well intended, but enforcement is the key,” he cautioned. http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2011/11-0754_MOT_05-06-11.pdf
On June 30, in an L.A. Times op-ed titled, “Geez Frisco, lighten up,” Meghan Daum posed some rather unflattering comparisons between Los Angeles’ humane earnestness and ultra-liberal San Francisco, which magnanimously extended its proposed puppy-mill ban to include “anything with fur or feathers” and then in the afterglow added fish, reptiles and amphibians.
Meghan infers that the City Council was able to slip in a proposal that could shut down pet stores in Los Angeles with hardly a flutter because it only focuses on warm and fuzzys and that, “The world is so conditioned to seeing Angelenos as morally bankrupt fame-seekers that it barely notices when we get self-righteous about something other than who’s been overlooked for an Oscar.” http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-daum-pets-20110630,0,5770704.column
Can we prove Meghan wrong and show the compelling need for Koretz’ instruction that the City Attorney and LAPD help Animal Services develop a puppy-mill ban in Los Angeles? How many of these breeding factories actually exist within the city limits?
According to L. A. Animal Services veterans, they can’t recall ever finding one or receiving complaints about puppy mills. They say the city’s pet overpopulation stems from careless owners who do not spay their pets and a combination of local backyard and home-based hobby breeders churning out litters which are easily sold through Craig’s List, the Pennysaver, L.A. Times and flyers in pet supply stores or veterinary offices. And, of course, add whatever outlets are used by Los Angeles’ “responsible breeders” who are offended at the mention of advertising , but whose breeding credits are revealed and extolled in dozens of Internet Google references.
Koretz immediately admitted to FoxLA.com that banning puppy mills, “…is probably of more symbolic importance than anything else.” He stressed that this is just a small part, because “by being customers, we perpetuate the problem.” That rather obfuscates the initial premise. Is the problem the alleged puppy-mill source of the pet-store pets, or is it that there are willing consumers for them in Los Angeles? http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/local/los-angeles-moves-to-ban-factory-bred-pet-sales-20110607
Later, Koretz explained that, out of the estimated 100 pet stores in Los Angeles that sell puppies and kittens, only 21 have been determined to possibly obtain them from puppy mills. This brings up the second obstacle with which Mr. Koretz will have to grapple. Before we can charge pet stores with selling mill-bred animals, how does the City define a “puppy/kitten mill?”
Brenda Barnette, the new GM of L.A. Animal Services, former AKC Legislative Representative and dog breeder from Seattle WA, who was Koretz’ choice for the job, told the L.A. Times that she knows there are puppy mills in the city, but not how many. http://www.seattlekennelclub.org/wp-content/uploads/GF_Sat_Working1.jpg
Ms. Barnette explained, “A lot of them fly under the radar illegally. They’re very clever, and they have their little lookouts and they will move from house to house, and move their animals with them and stay one step ahead of law enforcement.” http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/local/los-angeles-moves-to-ban-factory-bred-pet-sales-20110607
Whoops, Ms. Barnette, wrong crime! Puppy mills, as described by Koretz, are factory/commercial breeders of dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens. That requires large-scale caging and kenneling—not easily moved “from house to house.” Dog fighters and cockfighters are the ones associated with last-minute moves to “stay one step ahead of law enforcement.”
Then Judie Mancuso, president of a nonprofit group called Social Compassion in Legislation, decided to take a stab at pinning down the problem. “The number of mills in the city is unknown because the pets are typically stored in warehouses,” she said. Well, that might help Ms. Barnette know where to look for them, but Ms. Mancusso’s expanded explanation to the TimesL.A.Now challenges Mr. Koretz’ profit motive. “If you’re breeding in these horrible conditions, they sell for next to nothing. It really is a cash crop,” she opined. Question, how do you get a cash crop from something that sells for next to nothing? (http://encino.patch.com/articles/koretz-proposes-to-ban-sales-of-pets-from-puppy-mills
Looks like tackling this puppy mill problem poses the complexities of an octopus in love with a bagpipe!
But, regardless of the confusion over the scope of the issue, LAAS GM Barnette is sure this motion will reduce her department’s costs. She probably refrains from estimating how much since statistics indicate that only about 5% of pets are purchased from pet shops, with no figures on how many of those are from actual puppy/kitten mills or how many are dumped in Los Angeles shelters.
Since local breeders have been identified as having a key impact on Los Angeles’ pet overpopulation issue, let’s approach this “puppy-mill” definition from a different angle. At what point does a local breeder become a puppy mill? According to Webster’s Thesaurus, any for-profit breeder selling puppies/kittens would be considered a “commercial" enterprise. That might not please some of Mr. Koretz’ supporters in the dog-breeding industry.
Meghan Daum mentioned San Fran is considering exemptions for local “responsible breeders,” which was also mentioned by a Koretz’ staffer. Lest we forget, Councilman Koretz recently seconded the motion promoted by local dog breeders to increase animal limits in Los Angeles by 66% and allow five adult dogs AND five adult cats per residential property, plus unlimited puppies and kittens. Some rather embarrassing e-mails surfaced at that time from a well-known Los Angeles breeder and another official of Concerned Dog Owners of California, reportedly representing about 120 breeding organizations. The e-mail to Mr. Koretz stated, “This motion [increasing the animal limit] MUST PASS to protect our rights as individuals…,” signed, “Your good friend and supporter,…”
Growing public sentiment against puppy/kitten mills
Koretz’ motion states, “Growing sentiment nationally against puppy and kitten mills has led a number of states and communities to adopt legislation regulating the mills and the stores that provide an outlet for the dogs and cats bred in their substandard conditions.”
This is true. Missouri and Oklahoma are among them. However, at the forefront of efforts to overturn new humane provisions for puppy mills are “responsible breeders.” Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the U.S. told the Huffington Post, "It suggests to me that this is an industry that wants deregulation.”
In Missouri, Prop.”B” received nationwide attention and support in 2010 as an initiative that brought about a state law to crack down on disreputable breeders and improve animal care in puppy mills. But, the law was already overhauled in 2011 by the Missouri legislature; and the revision, which gutted the bill, was recently signed by the Governor. Missouri breeders claimed that Prop. B, “…punished legitimate dog-breeders who generate an estimated $1 billion annually in the state.” An example of this punishment: a 50-dog cap!
Over 1,300 licensed Missouri breeders raise dogs on their farms, selling puppies through Internet ads and word-of-mouth. Some also sell to pet stores and to brokers that buy dogs nationwide. http://www.opposingviews.com/i/gop-jason-smith-looks-to-stop-missouri-puppy-mill-prop
Mindy Patterson of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners spoke for the “responsible breeders” and said that Prop. “B., approved by about 1-million voters, "…is just going to put the law-abiding, licensed, legitimate, conscientious, caring breeders out of business, and the only ones remaining will be the illegal people already flying under the radar.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/15/missouri-anti-puppy-mill-law_n_849648.h
A new Texas law defines and applies to “large-scale cat and dog breeders” who maintain 11 or more female breeding animals and sell twenty or more animals per year. It is opposed by breeders because it requires that they be inspected and that enclosures have adequate drainage, are made out of safe materials and have adequate space for animals to comfortably stand, sit, turn around and lie down in a natural position.
A March 16, Fort Worth Star-Telegram article entitled, “Texas puppy mills bill concerns dog, cat breeders,” states, “Responsible dog and cat breeders in Texas could be put out of business by a bill aimed at shutting down so-called puppy mills, critics of the measure charged at a hearing in Austin on Tuesday.”
Here are the provisions that really bothered the responsible breeders
“Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would classify dog and cat breeders who have 11 or more unspayed female animals as "commercial breeders" and require that they be licensed by the state and undergo annual inspections and criminal background checks.
"This isn't something that Texas breeders are going to be proud to be a part of. This is something that's done to them," said Dale Martenson, a breeder and show-dog handler in Cleburne.
“Breeders criticized several provisions, including the 11-female limit. Several argued that a provision requiring all breeding animals be examined by a veterinarian annually would be too expensive.” www.star-telegram.com. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/16/v-print/110512/texas-puppy-mills-bill-concerns.html
Ohio Voters against Puppy Mills and Dog Auctions have organized to gather enough signatures from Ohio residents before 12/01/11 to ban dog auctions at which puppy-mill animals are sold to brokers who ship them all over the country.
“According to statistics released at the close of 2010, Ohio now ranks SIXTH (up from seventh in 2009!) among the top 10 states with the most USDA 'Class A' licensed commercial breeders!
(Click here to read the May 2010 USDA Report on Inspections of Problematic Dealers; includes audit of 12 Ohio dealer facilities - > http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33002-4-SF.pdf)”
“The Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions remains steadfast in its commitment to send a strong message to state legislators that dog auctions serve as a major distribution channel for buyers and sellers from 15 states, many of whom have long standing repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act and/or have been convicted of animal cruelty!”
(Contact: Mary O'Connor-Shave, http://www.BanOhioDogAuctions.com )
Back to California
There is no doubt Councilman Koretz is well intentioned when he states that LAPD and the City Attorney should be involved in developing “best practice standards” for L.A.’s pet shops. However, as a State Assemblyman from 2000 to 2006, he may recall that the State of California was and still is on the cutting-edge of some of the strongest and most progressive pet-shop and breeder regulations in the United States. Initially passed as the Polanco/Lockyer Pet Warranty Act (1991, amended 2001) and later extended to pet shops (1995) as the Lockyer/Polanco/Farr Pet Protection Act , strict and detailed regulations have been updated and expanded regularly. (Health & Safety Secs. 122125-122140 and Secs. 122145-122330)
The CA breeder law defines a ”breeder” as, anyone who sells, transfers or gives away “all or part of three or more litters, or 20 or more puppies in 12 months, bred on the premises,” which is certainly far more stringent than most of the country.
CA pet shops are strictly regulated under 32 sections of the CA Health & Safety Code and also 15 sections of the Lockyer/Polanco/Farr Pet Protection Act, including required disclosureof the source of the pet to all purchasers. Pet shops are inspected annually by Los Angeles Animal Services officers to determine compliance with state humane laws and city Municipal Code provisions. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/cacode/HSC/1/d105/6/5/2/s122125
This year there is another proposed law in Sacramento that would affect pet shops. AB 1121 (Pan) would authorize animal control agencies to require puppies to be licensed in California, and “requires breeders (as defined under current law selling 20 dogs or 3 litters per year), rescue groups and pet shops to monthly report adopters/buyers’ names to animal control so they can inform them of licensing requirements.” http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_1101-1150/ab_1121_bill_20110713_amended_sen_v93.html
Los Angeles pet store inspections
The City already has the power to shut down any pet store that is not in compliance with state law, and CA pet stores are required to provide information to every dog and cat purchaser on spay/neuter (H&S Sec. 122137), licensing, (Sec. 122140) and refund plus reimbursement for veterinary bills for any animal that is ill or dies from a disease that can be traced to genetics or contamination prior to purchase. ( Sec.122160).
Since State law already covers just about every facet of pet shops and provides severe penalties for selling sick animals, do we really need more local ordinances? Or, as Councilman Reyes opined, do we just need strict and increased enforcement? If the latter, perhaps city officials could better spend their time and taxpayer resources figuring ways to increase the LA Animal Services’ budget and train more officers.
“Feel-good” puppy-mill legislation has a flip side
Mr. Koretz is correct that public sentiment is growing with awareness of the inhumane aspects of mass production of pets—or any animals. However, the flip side of a feel-good ban on non-existent puppy mills in Los Angeles is the risk of driving L.A. consumers (the second part of Mr. Koretz’ equation) to non-permitted backyard breeders, hobby breeders, and Internet brokers where puppy-mill puppies/kittens can be purchased without the guarantees of health, sanitation and inspection which are written into California law, or the requirement to advise consumers of the source of the pet.
Some reports indicate that at least 300,000 purebred puppies produced under far worse conditions than even the most deplorable U.S. puppy-mill kennel are illegally imported annually, frequently in sick or dying condition, and survivors are mainly offered over the Internet. Internet pet sales are not regulated by federal, state, or local laws.
Also, many large-scale, breeding operations are located within easy driving distance of Los Angeles city limits, as are pet shops in other cities with no ban on selling animals.
Bunnies in Los Angeles
In targeting the City’s “rabbit mills,” anyone familiar with rabbit-breeding habits can attest that just one pair of unaltered bunnies can quickly become of a “factory.” Before LAPD and the City Attorney turn their attention to banning bunnies and chicks in retail stores, let’s look at the realities.
L.A. Animal Services has declined to legally designate rabbits as “pets,” although a well-researched ordinance was prepared and thousands of bunnies live as companion animals in Los Angeles and are adopted from shelters and rescuers. Domestic bunnies should be reclassified under City law from barnyard animals to legal companions. Then, limits, spay/neuter, and specific humane-care requirements can be enforced.
The major locations for illegal small-animal sales are tourist traps (such as, Los Angeles’ infamous Santee Alley), flea markets, and cheap sales in throwaway papers. Within the magnitude of the problem of neglected and abandoned pet rabbits, probably few are actually purchased in pet stores.
Bunnies are the third most-relinquished animal in Los Angeles shelters. Rather than banning them from a few pet stores, could their welfare be better served by creating a legal classification of “house rabbit," and requiring spay/neuter information to be provided upon any sale, along with disclosure of the source/breeder? This could begin a program to require pet or exotic-rabbit breeders to be subject to the CA laws in place for puppies and kittens. It would also create more media opportunities for rabbit rescuers to discuss the benefits of adopting a spayed/neutered young adult or mature bunny.
Los Angeles chicks
Baby chicks are rarely offered in pet stores. They are customarily sold in feed and tack stores because just-hatched chicks require an adjustable heat lamp and very special care to survive. They can be purchased over the Internet from dozens of hatcheries all over the U.S. and are sent through the mail in cramped, inhumane boxes of 15 to 100 at a cost of about $1 to $2 apiece. Many do not arrive alive. The plight of baby chicks is truly tragic and certainly worth addressing, but merely banning them from pet shops would probably have little effect.
Shelter animals in pet stores?
Another component of the Koretz motion that had animal advocates cheering was the suggestion that when puppy/kitten-mill animals are banned, pet stores would replace them with shelter animals.
But, Los Angeles has “been there, done that.” In 2009, GM Ed Boks engaged a high-profile, very credible animal-welfare organization to assist in a “pilot program to determine the feasibility of working with private pet stores to adopt animals for resale…” The group was to “provide guidance and support in a groundbreaking effort, for the purpose of increasing adoptions and reducing the inflow of animals.” (Animal Services Commission Report dated January 23, 2009.) An effort to contact the one pet store near trendy West Hollywood which agreed to participate indicates that they are no longer in business.
The problem is breeding—regardless of who’s doing it.
So, here’s a suggestion for LA Animal Services, the City Attorney and LAPD when they undertake the study of “ways to break the link between the mills and pet shops” and reduce Los Angeles shelter impounds. Let’s make this simple. The City already has a spay/neuter ordinance which requires all owners of intact dogs to obtain an unaltered license PLUS a breeding permit, unless exempted.
Los Angeles legally allows three adult dogs and/or three adult cats per residence. Anyone who is breeding three female dogs or cats and/or selling any part of those litters (whether or not bred on the premises), should be automatically declared a “commercial" enterprise and required to have a breeding permit, business license, state and local tax registration, and be in proper zoning for an in-home business of this nature. Anyone providing puppies/kittens to a broker or a pet shop anywhere would also qualify as a “commercial” breeder.
Councilman Koretz recently proposed stiff administrative citations for violating L.A. Municipal Code, including zoning codes. He stated that his program is designed not only to stop violations of City law but also impose high enough fines to discourage repeat behavior.
Conducting an unlicensed, non-permitted puppy/kitten-breeding business in a residential zone and thus adding to Los Angeles' pet overpopulation and euthanasia of shelter animals is a clear violation of City ordinances and could result in some hefty enforcement fines--plus criminal charges for any inhumane conditions--without the need for additional laws. This would also address backyard breeding and most Los Angeles city commercial/mill-bred sources of pet shop puppies/kittens, prove Megan Daum wrong about Los Angeles being just “…a city filled with shallow, materialist jerks,” and make Councilman Ed Reyes smile!