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Banning the Retail Sale of Cats, Dogs, and Rabbits in Pet Shops

S. 549/H. 826/S. 550:* Banning the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet shops

MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsors: Senator Patrick O’Connor; Representatives Natalie Higgins and Kimberly Ferguson
Status: Referred to Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Hearing held November 8, 2023. Extension order filed (until 4/18/24).


Why is this legislation needed?

Pet shops typically acquire their dogs and cats from inhumane commercial breeding facilities, often called “puppy mills” or “kitten mills.” Pet stores are a preferred sales outlet for puppy mills because they allow the cruelty at the mills to remain hidden from consumers. These bills prohibit the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from pet shops unless the animals come from shelters or rescue organizations.*

This legislation does not prevent consumers from acquiring one of these animals from a responsible breeder or a shelter or rescue organization. Further, it does not prohibit a pet shop from partnering with a shelter or rescues to provide animals in their store. California, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Washington have similar state laws. There are also more than 400 municipalities nationwide—including 14 in Massachusetts: Attleboro, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Holliston, Lenox, Lexington, Marshfield, North Adams, North Andover, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Springfield, and Stoneham—that have passed laws prohibiting the sale of commercially-raised dogs and cats in pet stores. New York passed their measure in 2022 and there is concern among neighboring states that those businesses may move across the border when their law takes effect this year.

Where do pet shops get their animals?

While pet stores may claim that they obtain animals from small-scale, humane breeders, the reality is that pet stores cannot obtain dogs from responsible breeders because responsible breeders simply do not sell puppies to pet stores—responsible breeders want to meet their puppy buyers in person. Furthermore, ninety-six percent of the Codes of Ethics of the National Breed Clubs, which represent all 197 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, prohibit or discourage their members from selling their dogs to pet stores. Thus pet shops almost always obtain their animals from commercial breeding facilities.

Although commercial dog breeding facilities are inspected by the USDA under Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations, the standards of care are very low. USDA standards allow commercial breeders to keep dogs in cramped, stacked, wire cages for their entire lives. The USDA does not require that dogs be regularly let outside of their cages for exercise, nor does it mandate socialization. Dogs can be kept in extreme temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Females are bred as early and often as possible and personnel without veterinary training often perform surgical births. Breeders are not required to vaccinate dogs from many highly infectious deadly diseases or to provide regular veterinary care. Puppies are taken from their mothers at very young ages, exposing them to a range of behavioral issues, and because puppy mill dogs are often overbred or inbred, they frequently suffer from health and genetic disorders. When puppy mill mother dogs are no longer able to reproduce, breeders often abandon or inhumanely euthanize them. Thus, even if a commercial breeder complies with all USDA requirements, a breeder can keep animals in extremely inhumane conditions.

Learn more about puppy mills and the puppy mill/Massachusetts connection.

How does this legislation impact consumers?

Animal organizations regularly receive complaints from Massachusetts consumers who have spent thousands of dollars in veterinary bills caring for their sick pet store puppies. Massachusetts families deserve better than unknowingly supporting the puppy mill industry and buying sick or behaviorally challenged puppies.

An examination of federal documents and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources records demonstrated that many Massachusetts pet stores source puppies from some of the largest puppy mill brokers in the country. Brokers are middlemen dealers who pick up young puppies from mills, cage them on semi-trucks with numerous other puppies, many of whom are sick, and transport them across the country to be sold in pet stores. One broker in particular, Choice Puppies (formerly the Hunte Corporation) transports 30,000 puppies yearly and was cited by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for burying more than 1,000 pounds of dead puppies per year, creating an environmental hazard. By buying from brokers instead of directly from breeders, pet shops make it very difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to find out where the animals come from. This lack of transparency, particularly when so many pet store animals are sick or behaviorally challenged, is a significant consumer protection issue.

Too many families are unable to afford the sudden and unexpected veterinary bills that often accompany animals sourced from mills and have to make the choice to relinquish their pet animal to a shelter or rescue organization. A study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded that pet shop dogs are more likely to exhibit aggression, inappropriate elimination, biting, and other behavioral problems, all of which are common factors leading to the surrender of a dog.

Most Massachusetts families already adopt from shelters and rescues or buy from the network of responsible breeders, so restricting puppy sales in pet stores will still allow consumers to obtain the dog of their choice. While some might seek out puppies from other puppy mill sales outlets, such as the internet, there is no evidence that regulating pet stores drives more people to these sources.

What about pet shops who claim they do everything right?

Pet stores selling commercially-raised puppies adhere to an outdated and socially unacceptable business model and are outliers in their own industry. Of the top twenty-five pet store chains in the nation, only one sells puppies. The others are thriving by selling products and offering quality services, such as grooming, training and boarding. They also partner with shelters and rescues to hold adoption events at their stores, saving animals’ lives and driving more consumers into their stores to buy all the supplies a new canine family member needs.

Many stores that used to sell puppy mill puppies are thriving on the humane model. For instance, the owner of Pet Rush in California changed his business model after learning the truth about where his puppies came from. He started offering boarding and daycare services and was so successful that he expanded to a larger location. And, Pets Plus Natural, with 8 stores throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, converted to the humane model after the owners learned about pet overpopulation. They decided to become part of the solution to pet overpopulation, rather than continuing to add to the problem. As of today, Pets Plus Natural stores have adopted out over 8,000 rescue animals and business is thriving. The owners credit their success to having a much better reputation in the community.

*H. 826 and S. 549 would prevent new pet shops from selling these animals; S. 550 would prevent all pet shops from selling these animals.

Co-Sponsors

Updated 2/21/2024

State Senators:

Name District/Address
Patrick M. O’Connor First Plymouth and Norfolk
Michael O. Moore Second Worcester
John F. Keenan Norfolk and Plymouth
Adam Gomez Hampden
Jason M. Lewis Fifth Middlesex
Walter F. Timilty Norfolk, Plymouth and Bristol
James B. Eldridge Middlesex and Worcester
Pavel M. Payano First Essex
Paul W. Mark Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire
Bruce E. Tarr First Essex and Middlesex
John C. Velis Hampden and Hampshire
John J. Cronin Worcester and Middlesex
Joanne M. Comerford Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester
Nick Collins First Suffolk
Patricia D. Jehlen Second Middlesex

State Representatives:

Name District/Address
Natalie M. Higgins 4th Worcester
Kimberly N. Ferguson 1st Worcester
Jack Patrick Lewis 7th Middlesex
Adam Scanlon 14th Bristol
Lindsay N. Sabadosa 1st Hampshire
Brian W. Murray 10th Worcester
Ryan M. Hamilton 15th Essex
Brian M. Ashe 2nd Hampden
John Barrett, III 1st Berkshire
Samantha Montaño 15th Suffolk
Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr. 12th Hampden
David Henry Argosky LeBoeuf 17th Worcester
William C. Galvin 6th Norfolk
Michelle M. DuBois 10th Plymouth
Paul McMurtry 11th Norfolk
Colleen M. Garry 36th Middlesex
Hannah Kane 11th Worcester
Denise C. Garlick 13th Norfolk
Kathleen R. LaNatra 12th Plymouth
Joseph D. McKenna 18th Worcester
James K. Hawkins 2nd Bristol
Marcus S. Vaughn 9th Norfolk
Steven S. Howitt 4th Bristol
James C. Arena-DeRosa 8th Middlesex
Jessica Ann Giannino 16th Suffolk
Bradley H. Jones, Jr. 20th Middlesex
Carmine Lawrence Gentile 13th Middlesex
Patrick Joseph Kearney 4th Plymouth
Margaret R. Scarsdale 1st Middlesex
Simon Cataldo 14th Middlesex
Patricia A. Duffy 5th Hampden
Rodney M. Elliott 16th Middlesex
James Arciero 2nd Middlesex
Carol A. Doherty 3rd Bristol
Bruce J. Ayers 1st Norfolk
Adrianne Pusateri Ramos 14th Essex
Jennifer Balinsky Armini 8th Essex
Josh S. Cutler 6th Plymouth
Christine P. Barber 34th Middlesex
Jeffrey Rosario Turco 19th Suffolk
Richard M. Haggerty 30th Middlesex
Natalie M. Blais 1st Franklin
Jonathan D. Zlotnik 2nd Worcester
Steven Owens 29th Middlesex
Tommy Vitolo 15th Norfolk
Estela A. Reyes 4th Essex
Tricia Farley-Bouvier 2nd Berkshire
Michael P. Kushmerek 3rd Worcester
Danillo A. Sena 37th Middlesex
Adrian C. Madaro 1st Suffolk
Mindy Domb 3rd Hampshire
Judith A. Garcia 11th Suffolk
William F. MacGregor 10th Suffolk
Kenneth I. Gordon 21st Middlesex
F. Jay Barrows 1st Bristol
Paul J. Donato 35th Middlesex
Steven Ultrino 33rd Middlesex
John Francis Moran 9th Suffolk
Smitty Pignatelli 3rd Berkshire
Carole A. Fiola 6th Bristol

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