Despite the title, H. 1773 – An Act to protect pets in the Commonwealth, actually limits consumer protections and threatens the welfare of puppies and kittens in Massachusetts because it:
- Allows pet stores to source from some of the worst puppy mills in the nation—those that are completely unregulated and those that fall under the broken USDA licensing and inspection program;
- Is largely unenforceable, as USDA inspection report information is no longer publicly available;
- Takes language from legitimate animal protection legislation previously filed by Senate President Karen Spilka, which passed the Senate last session (An Act to Protect Puppies and Kittens), and weakens it to render it ineffective at protecting animals;
- Conflicts with pending Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources regulations;
- Restricts consumers’ ability to achieve recourse for being sold a sick puppy or kitten; and
- Threatens the authority of local government to pass ordinances relating to the sale of pets from pet stores in their communities.
This bill would be a step backward for animal welfare and consumer protection in Massachusetts.
It weakens legitimate state-level animal welfare reform: Filed by Senate President Karen Spilka in 2017, An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens would have established certain protections for puppies and kittens. This bill takes language from that animal protection legislation and weakens it—rendering it ineffective at protecting animals.
This bill’s puppy sourcing provisions are weak and unenforceable: It would allow pet stores to sell puppies to consumers that come from unregulated and uninspected facilities, including the worst of the worst commercial breeding facilities, known as “puppy mills.”
- Even USDA licensing does not guarantee humane treatment—the standards of care required under the federal Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the USDA, are mere survival standards. This bill wouldn’t even require pet stores to source from facilities with these bare minimum standards.
- The solution should not be sourcing only from USDA-licensed facilities or even sourcing only from USDA-licensed facilities with fewer than a certain number of recent violations of the Animal Welfare Act because of their minimal standards, lack of enforcement, and lack of transparency. In February, the Washington Post reported that the USDA inspectors documented 60% fewer violations in 2018 than in 2017.[i] The Post also noted a drop in the number of “critical” or “direct” violations issued by the USDA—the same violations this legislation uses to determine which breeders stores can source from. Unfortunately, this decline in citations is not due to an increase in compliance with the law, and the USDA doesn’t even attempt to say that it is. A USDA spokesperson admitted to the Post that the agency is backpedaling on enforcement, stating that it is putting more emphasis on “working with” the regulated community instead.
- To make matters worse, neither the public nor state enforcement agents have access to key information on commercial breeders’ USDA inspection reports. For years, inspection report information was available via public records requests and the USDA’s online database. However, the USDA is currently protecting animal abusers by allowing noncompliant inspection reports to remain hidden. One can no longer connect inspection report information to a specific breeder because either the breeder’s name, address, and/or license number is redacted or all violations and their descriptions are redacted. As such, H. 1773, which relies on this information, is entirely unenforceable. Since pet stores know this information cannot be verified there would be little incentive to comply with this legislation.
- Today, the most effective way to protect consumers and animal welfare is to prohibit the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet shops. Known as “Humane Pet Shop Bills,” this legislation would require pet shops to either make dogs and cats available in partnership with an animal shelter or rescue or to focus on a pet supplies and services only model. In Massachusetts, Senator Patrick O’Connor and Representative Natalie Higgins filed this legislation as An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops (S. 175 and H. 800).
This bill would thwart consumer protections: It does not protect consumers from purchasing sick or behaviorally challenged pet store puppies who were born into deplorable conditions, taken from their mothers very early, exposed to a wide range of diseases and very susceptible to genetic disorders, and spent their formative weeks in puppy mill and pet store cage.
This bill would provide consumers who were sold sick puppies with wholly inadequate remedies:
- Consumers could give the sick puppy to the pet store to have the pet store’s veterinarian care for the puppy at no cost. Yet, most consumers would not be willing to hand a sick puppy over to the same people who sold the sick puppy in the first place, nor the veterinarian who has a financial incentive to keep the pet store happy.
- Consumers could also return the puppy for a full refund of the purchase price. Again, few will take this option, and if they did they would not receive any reimbursement for veterinary costs they may have incurred.
Another option would be to exchange the sick puppy for another similar puppy or retain the puppy. In both instances, consumers would be able to have veterinary costs up to the purchase price of the puppy refunded, which may be grossly insufficient to cover the actual veterinary costs paid by the consumer.
- Additionally, if a puppy dies within 14 days of purchase of an illness that existed prior to sale or within one year of purchase of a hereditary or congenital condition, the buyer may obtain a refund up to the purchase price or receive a replacement dog. This refund or replacement dog would be of little console to consumers, many of whom spend thousands of dollars caring for sick puppies and suffer the heartbreak of a new puppy passing away.
It would burden shelters and rescues and hinder the adoption of homeless dogs and cats: This bill includes adoptions in its outdoor sales prohibition, which would inhibit the adoption of dogs from shelter and rescues, which often hold adoption events at outdoor venues. It also allows for previously arranged sales, which is a massive loophole that every outdoor seller would claim applied to them.
This bill may obstruct local animal welfare protections: It is crucial that localities retain the right to regulate pet stores and that existing local laws prohibiting puppy sales in pet stores remain intact. These ordinances help to fill a gap where state law may not adequately protect animals and consumers from pet stores that sell sick and behaviorally challenged puppies, deceive consumers, utilize predatory lending schemes, or create public health risks.
- This legislation does not include a clear statement that the bill is not intended to preempt local action that is more strict, such as the Boston, Cambridge, and Stoneham bylaws restricting the sale of animals. And in fact, a previous draft from the pet shop industry expressly preempted these local laws.
- The lack of an express statement of non-preemption could invite challenges if this bill becomes law. It could be claimed that the law as passed intends to preempt local action, otherwise the law would have said expressly that it doesn’t.
- Local pet store ordinances must be protected because municipal restrictions or bans on the sale of animals in pet stores cut off a crucial outlet for puppy mills (large-scale commercial breeders, where profit is given priority over the well-being of animals) and protect consumers. They also promote humane pet sources including shelters, rescues and responsible breeders who would never sell to pet stores because they want to meet and screen their puppy buyers. In fact, a review of the Codes of Ethics for the National Breed Clubs representing all dog breeds recognized by the AKC found that 96% of those National Clubs include statements to the effect that their breeders should not and/or do not sell to pet stores. Thus, a large majority of pet store puppies come from puppy mills, allowing the inhumane industry to thrive. Cities and town should be able to act on this issue.
This bill promotes an outdated and socially unacceptable business model that relies on the sale of puppies from inhumane sources: The pet store industry is dominated by successful businesses that do not sell puppies; of the top 25 retailers in the country only one sells puppies. The other chains sell products and offer quality services. The largest and most successful chains in the country partner with shelters and rescue organizations to hold adoption events at their stores. HSUS works directly with pet shops willing to switch to this humane model, where they only acquire dogs from shelters and rescues. We have seen many pet shops thrive on this model and Massachusetts municipalities should be able to require this model in their communities, if they choose to. The state should promote humane businesses, not the outliers that still sell commercially-raised puppies.
Please OPPOSE H. 1773.
H. 1773 fails to protect consumers, threatens animal welfare, and burdens animal shelters and rescues.