Last Thursday in Texas, the San Antonio City Council voted 9-1 in favor of banning the sale of cats and dogs from commercial breeders at any of the city’s pet stores.
The legislation targets the so-called puppy mills, a term used by animal rights campaigners to describe large commercial-breeding operations, often with poor conditions and little concern for animal welfare.
From Jan. 1, San Antonio pet stores will only be able to sell cats and dogs obtained from city or county animal shelters, animal control agencies, or animal rescue organizations.
Animal Care Services (ACS) director Heber Lefgren told council members, “Most of the puppies being sold at pet stores are coming from out-of-state puppy mills or large breeders or brokers that pass the pets on from one state to another state,” writes San Antonio Reports.
The city has 51 pet stores, but only three sell dogs and cats, and are affected by the new law, Lefgren noted. The others provide space for local rescue agencies to present adoption opportunities.
Of the three stores that sell commercially bred cats and dogs, Petland, Puppyland, and Royal Pet Palace, owners of the first two spoke at the three-hour meeting.
“You have it to where you have good breeders and bad breeders. We understand that,” said Jaime Trueba, one of the owners of Petland. “But obviously, we’re working our best to get nothing but the good breeders. And what they’re saying is that everything’s bad across the board.”
Trueba objected, stating, “Passing a blanket ordinance that prohibits us from selling puppies or cats unless they’re directly from the shelter does not work with the business model.”
He continued, “Petland provides our customers with the opportunity to choose a pet or breed or puppy that works best for the families. By implementing the ban, you’ll be taking away the right to choose and our ability to offer that service.”
The ACS began looking at rule changes back in 2019. Director Lefgren conceded that there were no known violations with any of the three stores, but that the market was “under-regulated,” meaning it was a struggle identifying legitimate suppliers.
“USDA standards do allow a breeder to confine a dog into a cage for its life that is six inches more than the size of the pet,” Lefgren told the council.
Across the United States, more than 380 cities already restrict the sale of dogs and cats in retail stores, Lefgren said. Among those are Austin, Waco, and El Paso.
He explained that because San Antonio can’t regulate out-of-state distribution and breeding of dogs, the city’s only recourse was to ban sales of commercially bred animals.
“While nearly every organization acknowledges the inhumane practices that are going on throughout the nation, it is also clear that the ability to regulate this, particularly from the city side, becomes very impossible to enforce,” he said. “Even good pet stores who are wanting to do the right things oftentimes find themselves realizing that they have been dealing with in the past some of the bad actors.”
Up to 1,000 pets per month are taken in by shelters, according to Katie Jarl Coyle, regional director of the Humane Society of the United States, who serves as a District 8 appointee of the ACS’s advisory board.
“Our local shelters and rescues work tirelessly to find loving homes for these animals but are fighting an uphill battle,” she said. “While these organizations work to address this issue in our city, pet stores are importing hundreds of dogs into San Antonio from out of state. This ordinance will drive the pet market towards more humane sources and encourage pet stores to be a part of the pet overpopulation solution.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, the lone vote against the ordinance, stated that she thought the changes did not address San Antonio’s problem with strays and overpopulation of dogs—one of ACS’s main areas of concern.
The changes will not affect local breeders who are properly permitted from breeding and selling dogs and cats directly to individual buyers.
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