Pet Stores - Connecticut's Pipeline to Misery

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How much is that doggie in the window used to convey a sentimental vision of a sweet puppy, lovingly bred and cared for. Reality is quite different. That cute puppy in the window of your local pet store costs anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 +/–; the higher end usually for cross-breeds like a Chorkie – (Chihuahua/ Yorkie mix) or Maltipoo (Maltese/Poodle mix) or any latest mix that promises never to shed or make you sneeze.

The dirty secret that pet stores don’t want you to know is that the puppy was born to a breeding female dog that languishes in what are possibly the cruellest and most inhumane settings you could image. To top it off, the federal government puts its stamp of approval on it saying these places are “USDA Certified,”meeting the standards of care under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

And so, this was the topic of the March 1st hearing of the Environment Committee, where CT Votes for Animals and other advocates came to ask legislators to pass HB 5386, an Act to Prohibit the Sale of Dogs, Cats, and Rabbits in CT’s pet stores. It was a long and arduous day at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford where people arrived at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t get the chance to tell legislators their stories until 12 hours later.

You can see the hearing here:  (Testimony begins at 8:52:26)
 
HB 5386 was introduced by Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan (D-Danbury) and Representative Jason Doucette (D-Glastonbury/Manchester) upon the urging of constituents who had been protesting the sale of dogs at Puppy Kisses for the past three years. Constituents who had done their homework and knew that puppies being sold came from puppy mills that had multiple violations of the minimum USDA standards. Legislators listened, but truly, a 3-minute testimony, even by multiple advocates, isn’t enough time to share what they needed to know.

The main points to understanding why this bill is necessary are:
• CT’s current law on pet shops is no longer effective.
• CT’s Department of Agriculture was short on staff and resources to monitor or enforce the law and certainly cannot now given recent federal changes.
• The Federal government now hides the data critical to knowing the extent to which puppy mills violate minimum USDA standards; their recent efforts to roll back regulations places animals in jeopardy.
• The majority of Connecticut residents understand the inhumane conditions animals are subjected to and want to shut down commercial breeding facilities and puppy mills.

Here Are the Issues

Where do CT Pet Stores Get Their puppies? CT’s pet store dogs come from commercial breeding facilities, often referred to as “puppy mills” or factory dog breeding facilities. CT’s stores are the pipeline for hundreds of commercial breeding facilities from all over the country. Each time someone buys a dog in one of CT’s pet shops, another one is ordered from a commercial facility some place in the mid-west to take its place. There are over 10,000 USDA breeding facilities in the US -- oftentimes from the Midwest and Pennsylvania – that “house” more than 167,000 breeding dogs. Over the course of a year, a store can sell dogs from as many as 400 different breeding facilities from around the country. We know that every few weeks an 18-wheeler transport truck comes up from the South with puppies from a variety of breeding mills to stock the store crates of Puppies Kisses, Gentle Giant and others. Currently, there are 9 businesses and 12 stores in CT: All Pets Club (Wallingford, Branford, North Windom, Southington) CT Breeder - Norwalk; The Dog House – Manchester; Triple Oak Kennel -Dayville; Gentle Jungle -Meriden; Safari Stan’s - New Haven; Puppy Kisses and Puppy Love - Danbury; Puppies of Westport- Norwalk.

Pet Stores Tell Us their Puppies are from Quality, USDA Certified Breeders: All CT pet store puppies must come from USDA certified commercial breeders, but don’t be fooled into thinking that has anything to do with quality or humane breeding. USDA certified breeding facilities are very large…accommodating anywhere between 50 to over 500 breeding dogs on premises. Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) offers only minimum standards for the commercial breeding of dogs and cats, allowing dogs to breed continuously and stand in cages with wire flooring. Here are some of the minimum requirements:

• A dog’s primary enclosure is required to be only six inches larger than the dog on all sides.
• Wire flooring is permissible.
• Stacked cages are permissible.
• Kennels do not have to have access to daylight – artificial light (light bulbs) is sufficient.
• Contact with other dogs or humans is minimal…and dog contact can be a substitute for no human contact.
• Bedding or “other methods of conserving body heat” (e.g., a solid resting board) required only when the indoor ambient temperature is below 50 degrees.
• Veterinary services can be satisfied with a phone call.

Doesn’t CT have a Law to Ensure only Quality Puppies are Sold In CT? Connecticut passed a law in 2014 (The Pet Shop bill) which required CT pet stores to only sell puppies that came from USDA certified breeding facilities with fewer than 2 violations in the past two years. But in 2017 several events happened that make CTs law ineffective:
• 2017 the federal government took down its USDA’s website that made it possible to check on the commercial breeding facility violations; now you must make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain information on these facilities.
• 2018/19: USDA cut back on its inspections of all facilities under the AWA. According to a 2019 Washington Post article, USDA has cut back its inspections of dogs, cows, chicken farms, etc. by 60%. Even before this time, the small number of available inspectors made it nearly impossible to have comprehensive inspections of the facilities.
• CT’s Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for enforcing CT’s pet shop law, has neither the staffing or time to make independent inspections or verify that pet shops are complying with the law. In a recent independent review by advocates, a random sample of 2 CT pet shops found that both stores were selling puppies from breeding facilities that violated CT law.

Why Are Rabbits Included In this Bill? Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America, after cats and dogs, according to the Humane Society of the United States—and the third most abandoned. Rabbits sold in stores come from mill breeders where they live in horrendous conditions. Rabbit rescues exist because rabbits are being dumped at shelters every day of the year (not to mention the rabbits needing homes a couple months after Easter). As you read this, healthy rabbits are being killed at animal shelters simply because there are more wonderful rabbits than there are rabbit-people.

If Stores No Longer Sell Puppies, Where Can I Get a Dog, Cat or Rabbit? The bill encourages existing pet stores to collaborate with local rescues and give rescued animals a good, forever home. But that is only one option. People are encouraged to find responsible breeders or look at PetFinder which now has rescue dogs by breed, location, and age.

If HB 5386 is Enacted Will it Mean that CT’s Pet Shops Will Go Out of Business: Absolutely not. CT has over 100 independent and chain pet supply stores that do not sell dogs, cats, or rabbits. These stores thrive on a successful business model based on the ethical principles of adoption and rescue. In order to be competitive in today’s marketplace businesses change their models all the time to meet the new values in today’s retail market. We believe the 9 CT business can do the same and stop profiting from the cruel and inhumane practice of commercial breeding dogs, cats and rabbits.