HARRISBURG – Pet shops wouldn’t be allowed to sell dogs from commercial breeders under new legislation targeting puppy mills proposed by a group of state lawmakers.
The shops would only be allowed to offer customers the opportunity to get dogs from rescues and animal shelters.
While most pet stores have abandoned the practice of selling dogs, there are still more than 40 pet stores in Pennsylvania that sell dogs, said Kristen Tullo, state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The Humane Society has identified pet stores selling puppies across the state, though most identified by the group are in central, northeastern and southeastern Pennsylvania. That includes locations in Selinsgrove, Williamsport and Bloomsburg.
In western Pennsylvania, the Humane Society identified two pet stores selling puppies in Allegheny County, outside the Pittsburgh city limits, where puppy sales are banned.
Responsible breeders shouldn’t be that concerned about the change, said state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester County, one of the leading proponents of the bill. Customers would still be able to buy dogs directly from the breeders.
Dinniman said that a 2008 rewrite of the state’s regulations of dog-breeding kennels was intended to drive puppy mills out of the state.
It didn’t. So, this legislation will be another way of making running a puppy mill less profitable, he said.
“If we can cut off their source of revenue, we can put them out of existence,” he said.
There are already bans on selling dogs in pet stores in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Victoria’s Law would take those local bans statewide, Tullo said. Similar local bans are in place in dozens of communities across the country.
California this month became the first state to have a statewide ban on pet store sale of commercially-bred dogs. Maryland has passed similar legislation but it doesn’t go into effect until 2020.
For pet store owners dealing with puppy mills is a matter of convenience, said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills campaign.
“What would you rather deal with a Rolodex full of breeders that you have to deal with or just use one or two puppy mills?” that supply a variety of breeds, he asked rhetorically.
Commercial breeders say the law will have negative unintended consequences and the state’s earlier efforts to regulate dog kennels are sufficient.
The proposal “is driven solely by emotion, not by law or logic,” said Bob Yarnall, president of American Canine Association, a dog breeders group.
Prospective dog owners who want small dogs or puppies will be frustrated if they are forced to select animals provided by local shelters, he said.
Shelters tend to have older dogs with behavior problems and pit bull-mixes, Yarnall said.
If pet stores aren’t an option, people may turn increasingly to Internet sales, including buying animals from breeders out-of-state who aren’t subject to Pennsylvania’s kennel laws, he said.
In addition, Pennsylvania has a puppy lemon law covering animals bred by commercial breeders, Yarnall said. That law provides protections for pet owners who buy animals with health problems. If a vet diagnoses a pre-existing condition in the animal, the breeder must either replace the dog, provide a refund or cover veterinarian bills not exceeding the purchase price of the animal, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
The existing dog lemon law doesn’t do much good for pet owners who buy a dog with genetic problems that show up years later, Dinniman said.
“By then, it’s not just an animal, it’s a part of your family,” Dinniman said.
Those are part of the concerns illustrated by the case of Victoria, a German Shepherd rescued from a Lancaster County puppy mill, who lends her name to the legislation.
Victoria was rescued by the Finding Shelter Animal Rescue in 2017, after the puppy mill owner determined that the dog was too old to continue having puppies, said Grace Kelly Herbert, co-founder of the Finding Shelter rescue.
The breeder told rescuers that Victoria had given birth to at least 15 and perhaps as many as 20 litters of puppies, Herbert said.
All her puppies may not be at risk of developing the same degenerative disorder that has left Victoria unable to walk and will eventually claim her life, Herbert said.
Victoria was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a disorder similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS.
“A good breeder wouldn’t have bred her,” Herbert said.
Victoria is now moved around in a wagon because she can’t use her back legs. Eventually, the disorder will affect her ability to breath, she said.
When they got Victoria, the dog was wearing a muzzle because she was frightened of newcomers, Herbert said. It’s not clear how often or if the dog was ever allowed out of the cage or barn where she was kept, she said.
But in the time since she was rescued, Victoria has become more accustomed to being around strangers and Monday, she sat in the Capitol rotunda placidly accepting pets from anyone who walked by her.