Standing Up for Retailers of Pets

Mike Bober
President and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council

On April 18, 10 state lawmakers voted to ban the retail sales of cats, dogs, and rabbits unless they are sourced from shelters. According to sponsor Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Assembly Bill 485 is intended to stop substandard breeders from placing unhealthy pets with uninformed consumers.

Regretfully, it will do just the opposite – and recommendations by the responsible pet trade that would accomplish Assemblyman O’Donnell’s goal of getting healthy pets into loving homes have been flatly ignored.

AB 485 will cause severe harm for pets and people who care for them. It risks closing many of the estimated 95 retailers in the state – retailers who employ college students, high schoolers in their first job, single mothers, and many other California residents. It will effectively eliminate warranty protections that California law currently extends to consumers who buy from pet stores, as retailers will not be able to provide warranties for shelter-sourced pets. And it will increase the risk that dogs, cats, and rabbits provided to prospective owners will have genetic defects and communicable diseases, since shelters are virtually unregulated.

The disparity in regulations between retailers and shelters is an important point of which Assemblyman O’Donnell and other activists have either been unaware or have chosen to ignore. Again, California law requires retailers to provide warranties for pets. They can do this because retailers are also required to source pets only from U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected and overseen breeders or exempt hobby breeders. Furthermore, retailers are required to document the backgrounds and health of their pets. Lastly, they are required to transparently provide critical information about each pet when such information is requested by prospective pet owners.

None of these standards or consumer protections are required of shelters, which means AB 485 ensures that some pet owners will be left in the lurch if the animal they bring home has a congenital issue or even a communicable illness. These already substantial risks are increased due to the common shelter practice of sourcing pets out of state and internationally – stringent standards and oversight are essential when companion animals come from unfamiliar areas.

Most shelters, like most retailers and breeders, do great work connecting people and pets. But the exceptions are that much more egregious for lack of oversight; for example, a California rescue and a city-operated shelter  were recently found to be in substandard practices and abuse of dozens of animals which could have been caught much earlier had these facilities been subject to the kind of oversight seen in other states.

Helping pet owners find the pet that fits their needs and lifestyles from shelters, breeders, and retailers is not an either/or issue. A ban is like using a sword when a scalpel will do – a more targeted approach incorporating breeding restrictions like those PIJAC and other industry groups have backed in New Jersey and elsewhere will be far more effective with far fewer unintended consequences.

Again, lawmakers have excluded stakeholders like PIJAC and the California pet retail industry from providing expertise that could turn AB 485 from a harmful ban to a constructive sourcing restriction. We have been treated as opponents rather than willing partners in pet care, and the cost could be the health of companion animals, decreased consumer protections, and the loss of hundreds of jobs across the state.

Mike Bober is President and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. PIJAC members include retailers, companion animal suppliers, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, manufacturers’ representatives, pet hobbyists, and other trade organizations. 

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