Last night my family and I came across the movie Legally Blond 2 on television. In the movie, the main character was working towards a bill that would protect animals. While we all laughed at Reese Witherspoon’s antics, we all got to see a small glimpse of how a bill is introduced and passed. Lobbying, educating, community gathering and protests are all tools highlighted in this movie shot over 14 years ago. The same techniques are used to bring awareness to animal welfare issues today.
One of those issues is the plight of animals bred in mills. Right now in the California state legislature, there is a bill that is attempting to ban the sale of commercially bred puppies, kittens and rabbits in pet stores. Animals sold at pet stores are often from places called puppy or kitten mills. These are factories that breed animals for profit. With little oversight, the animals are kept in dirty, wire cages with little or no socialization, proper nutrition or medical attention. The adults are bred and their babies are shipped across the country and sold in pet stores. Many of these animals have genetic conditions, behavior problems and are ill. They will come with papers indicating that they are a purebred, but the papers just mean an animal is registered as a purebred, not that it actually is one.
With no real requirements placed on the sale of animals at pet stores, an animal’s welfare is not always taken into account. As long as you have the cash, you can buy an animal for any purpose, even if it turns out to be something against the law like dog fighting. Often people buy these animals as an impulsive purchase finding themselves unable to care for the animals for the long term. That’s when pets wind up in animal shelters.
Last year, about 25% of the animals that found their way to the Pasadena Humane Society were purebred. Homeless, abandoned and abused, many of these animals were originally purchased at pet stores and backyard breeders. There was the shepherd who was bought as a guard dog and left in the backyard with no human contact. He spent his life chained to a fence until he outlived his use and was turned into the shelter. Or, the miniature poodle that was so cute that the owner thought she could make a profit by breeding her over and over again. Found wandering the street one day, the owner realized it was too much work to breed a dog and chose not to claim her. And, I’ll never forget, the 14-year-old Persian cat that was turned in because his medical conditions were too expensive. All these animals were ultimately adopted, but their plight could have been avoided in the first place with more oversight and stricter rules regarding breeding factories.
So what can you do to address this problem? Don’t buy an animal from a pet store. Every time you do, you are supporting an industry of cruelty and helping it succeed. If you want a specific purebred animal, consider adoption first as shelters and breed specific groups are full of animals in need. Many pet stores have moved away from selling commercially bred animals and now have adoption suites for shelter pets. Consider frequenting one of those stores instead of one that sells pets from mills. You can also go to a responsible breeder, but make sure you visit the property, get references and ask questions to ensure that you are not dealing with a backyard breeding mill.
To learn more and to support the ban on commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, contact your legislator about Assembly Bill 485.
Julie Bank is President/CEO of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA. Her animal welfare career spans almost thirty years working in leadership roles in local and national nonprofit and governmental animal control organizations in New York, Arizona, Oklahoma City and California. She is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on animal issues, and has traveled extensively educating and supporting organizations and communities with their animal welfare efforts. Each blog post originally appeared as part of Julie's weekly column for the Pasadena Star News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune.