England Aims to Ban Sale of Puppies and Kittens at Pet Stores

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Some states in the U.S. have already passed laws that ban, to various degrees, sales of pets from for-profit facilities. jaboo2foto/Shutterstock

Soon, third-party pet stores across England may be banned from selling puppies or kittens less than 6 months old.

A proposal called Lucy's Law is currently "out for consideration" — meaning the public can voice their opinion to the government. The proposal would ban businesses licensed as pet sellers and not pet breeders. There's already a ban on licensed pet sellers from selling puppies and kittens less than 8 weeks old that's set to go into effect on Oct. 1. The government estimates between 40,000 and 80,000 puppies are sold via a third-party seller every year throughout Great Britain.

The goal of the proposal is to put an end to "puppy mills" and to reduce the health problems and poor living conditions of animals born in the mills. "For example, this might include the early separation of puppies and kittens from their mothers, the introduction to new and unfamiliar environments, and the increased likelihood of multiple journeys the puppies or kittens have to undertake," the proposal states. "All of these can contribute to an increased risk of disease and a lack of socialization and habituation for the puppies and kittens."

Therefore if someone is looking to buy a newly-born puppy or kitten, they will have to go through a breeder or rescue shelter.

Lucy's Law is named after a King Charles cavalier spaniel named Lucy who was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm in 2013 and was over-bred for the sole purpose of producing large litters. BBC News reports Lucy "had a series of health problems, including a curved spine as a result of being kept in a cramped cage, and epilepsy. She died in 2016."

"There's nowhere to hide, a pet shop can't blame the breeder and the breeder can't blame the pet shop," TV veterinarian Mark Abraham, who introduced the campaign for Lucy's Law, told BBC News. "Everyone selling is accountable so this is a very exciting time for animal welfare."

The public can express their opinion on an online survey until Sept. 19.

While England is set to become the first nation in the U.K. to ban puppy mills, there are several states across the pond that already have similar laws on the books.

California and Maryland set a precedent in the U.S.

puppies in metal cage
These laws are meant to put an end to puppy mills. KITSANANAN/Shutterstock

In April 2018, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill into law banning the sale of dogs and cat at pet stores, the second state in the country to do so. The one caveat is that stores can still sell pets from rescue groups.

"These dogs and cats are never touched by humans," Donna Zeigfinger, who lobbied for the bill and was present for the signing, told FOX 5 DC. "Most of them have never touched the ground before and don't know what grass feels like. [Rudy] was a nervous wreck when we first got him. All he would do is sit and shake and not let anyone touch him at all."

The law will go into effect in 2020.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a similar bill into law. AB 485 prevents the sale of commercially raised dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores across the state.

“This is a big win for our four-legged friends, of course,” said bill author Assembly member Patrick O’Donnell in a statement.

The requirements in the bill go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Stores can be fined $500 for each animal for sale that is not a rescue.

Not surprisingly, high-profile members of the animal rights community were quick to celebrate the legislation.

"By signing this groundbreaking bill, California has set an important, humane precedent for other states to follow," said Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society.

"This is a significant milestone in easing the overcrowding of homeless animals in California shelters, relieving county budgets and stopping the abusive puppy mill industry," said Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. "We commend Governor Brown for signing AB 485 so California can continue to lead the country in the protection of animals and helping end the cruelty of commercial puppy mills once and for all."

So far, 36 jurisdictions in California — including the cities of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco — have enacted similar ordinances.

These legislations in California and Maryland are the most high-profile attack in the U.S. against large-scale commercial breeding operations.

A growing effort nationwide

Nobody wants to see a pet come back to the shelter after an adoption, least of all animal advocates. Several groups have done their homework on this issue, with surprising results. David Porras/Shutterstock

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), more than 230 cities, towns and counties across the country have already passed some form of a pet store ordinance to regulate the sales of animals in varying degrees from for-profit facilities. Best Friends Animal Society has compiled a list that includes every ordinance.

According to the ASPCA:

Despite enticing claims that they only source from licensed, humane or small-scale breeders, pet stores across the country are invariably supplying unsuspecting consumers with animals from puppy and kitten “mills.” These “mill” facilities are designed to maximize profits at the expense of the animals in their possession. Those animals are generally kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food, water or socialization. Animals bred in these conditions may suffer severe health problems, including contagious and deadly diseases and congenital defects, as well as behavioral problems.

Supporters of these pet store laws say they help break the supply chain and put the mills out of business.

"This really started as a local movement," Amy Jesse, public policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States’ puppy mills campaign, told The San Diego Union-Tribune last year. "It was people that didn’t want in their own hometown a pet store supporting puppy mills. They didn’t want semi-trucks driving into their town filled with sick puppies anymore. So they went to their local elected officials and asked them to do something about it."

Not everyone is in favor of this type of legislation. The American Kennel Club, for example, issued a statement, saying it restricts an individual's right to choose a purebred pet from regulated sources.

"Pet stores represent a well-regulated and reliable source for responsibly raised animals, often breeds which are not readily available nearby," Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Washington D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, told the Union-Tribune. "We do think that consumer choice is an important part of this."