How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?

More puppies are sold in pet stores during the holiday season than any other time of year. Oftentimes these animals are born in large-scale commercial breeding operations known as puppy mills, where dogs are bred for profit at overcrowded and unsanitary facilities. They frequently suffer from infections and congenital problems and breeding females endure lifetimes of extreme hardship without socialization and veterinary care.

In an effort to ban such practices, nearly 100 municipalities have enacted ordinances banning retail stores from selling dogs and cats that were acquired from commercial breeding facilities, including Los Angeles, Miami Beach, Chicago and Phoenix. Many of these jurisdictions are converting to a more humane business model by adopting out animals from shelters or rescue organizations. Montgomery County, Maryland enacted such an ordinance in March 2015.

While the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) imposes some oversight and regulation of commercial breeders by requiring the USDA to license and inspect breeders who sell puppies to brokers and pet stores, the standards are minimal and the enforcement is abysmal. Under the AWA, for example, it is legal to maintain a dog for its entire lifetime in a cage with wire flooring that is only six inches wider than the animal in each direction. It is up to the states to enact statutes regulating commercial dog breeders and one of their primary markets, pet stores.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring counties to regulate commercial dog breeders and, in 2012, Maryland passed a retail pet disclosure law giving consumers the ability to make more informed choices about purchasing puppies. Despite these laws, Maryland continues to fuel the cruel puppy mill industry through its pet stores, so the General Assembly will consider legislation in the next session that will prevent some of the most unscrupulous breeders from sourcing Maryland pet stores.

Maryland’s current Disclosure Law requires pet stores to post the state in which the breeder or dealer is located, together with the breeder or dealer’s USDA license number. Many retail pet stores purchase dogs from middlemen known as “Class B Dealers,” which the USDA defines as brokers who buy and sell animals that they have not themselves raised. This allows pet stores to contract with a single dealer who may procure different breeds of dogs from multiple breeders, thereby insulating pet store owners from buying dogs directly from less reputable breeders. The largest broker in the country, The Hunte Corporation of Goodman, Missouri, ships approximately 80,000 puppies annually to pet stores nationwide, including more than 1,000 puppies a year to Maryland pet stores.

Despite the requirements for disclosure, the Humane Society of the United States found during an investigation in 2013 that the majority of pet stores in Maryland were not complying at all, posting no information whatsoever. Among the few stores that were complying, many of the suppliers identified were Class B Dealers. The ASPCA recently conducted a recheck and found that the majority of Maryland’s pet stores remain noncompliant.

The General Assembly will consider legislation in the coming weeks that amends Maryland’s Disclosure Law by requiring pet stores to only sell or adopt out dogs and cats obtained either from animal welfare organization, such as a shelter or rescue organization, or “Class A Dealers,” defined as dealers who have personally bred and raised animals that they sell and who have not run afoul of the USDA. While not perfect, Maryland needs legislation that makes it both more difficult for pet stores to sell animals from inhumane puppy mills and encourages adoption, particularly when an estimated 2.7 million adoptable animals are killed in the United States each year.

Shockingly, Maryland has sunk to 46th place in terms of animal protection, according to the 2015 rankings of the Animal League Defense Fund. If you are not a member, join Maryland Votes for Animals, (MVFA) and receive action alerts and updates on legislation. The MVFA website also has links to register for two lobby days: Voices for Animals Day on February 4, 2016 and for Humane Lobby Day on February 25, 2016. Join fellow animal advocates and speak directly to your legislators about animal protection. The experts from the HSUS, the ASPCA and MVFA will make it easy for you. Now more than ever, the animals need you to be their voice.