SALT LAKE CITY — Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, met Topaz, a 14-week-old gray Siamese kitten, for the first time Tuesday ahead of a press conference he helped organize.
Rojas said he couldn't resist — he decided on the spot to adopt Topaz from the Humane Society of Utah.
"I'm a sucker," Rojas said, laughing. "I knew this was going to happen."
Topaz was among several puppies and kittens that came to the Salt Lake City-County building Tuesday, raising quite a ruckus outside of the mayor's office as staffers and city officials swooned over the furry visitors.
But they weren't there just to steal hearts.
The parade of paws came to help raise awareness of a newly proposed Salt Lake City ordinance to prohibit pet stores from selling animals unless they come from shelters or rescues.
The ordinance — now in front of the Salt Lake City Council for consideration — wouldn't be the first in Utah. It would mirror ordinances already adopted by both Sandy and Salt Lake County, meant to discourage inhumane puppy mills and promote animal adoption.
More specifically, the ordinance would prohibit commercial animal establishments from selling dogs, cats or rabbits unless they're obtained from an animal shelter, an animal control agency, a humane society or a nonprofit rescue organization.
"Part of my mission of creating a city for everyone includes our loved ones — our animals we care so much about," Biskupski said, cradling a 10-week-old Siberian husky named Jasper in her arms. Jasper panted and rested his head on her chest as she spoke.
"We know we have many animals always up for adoption and looking for homes, and we want to be a part of that solution," the mayor said.
Currently, puppy mills aren't suspected of operating in Salt Lake City, but Biskupski said "as our city grows, we have to be thinking ahead" and "we want to make sure puppy mills do not come to Salt Lake City."
Biskupski told of how she adopted two dogs, Ava and Ember — a French bulldog and a Shih Tzu mix — from a local rescue organization earlier this year. She said the proposed ordinance is about sending the message that "there are pets out there that still needs homes."
City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall, holding Indie, a miniature schnauzer mix, said council staff has called around to local Salt Lake pet stores and determined the stores already work with adoption agencies to obtain animals to sell.
"It's encouraging that we are very much in line with that as a city already," Mendenhall said, noting that she expects support from the City Council as it considers the ordinance over the next several weeks.
The council received a briefing on the ordinance Tuesday. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13.
The idea is not to put pet stores out of business, but that they get their animals from a humane source.
–Gene Baierschmidt, Humane Society of Utah
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, lauded the proposed ordinance, praising it and other Utah cities for working to adopt similar ordinances.
"The idea is not to put pet stores out of business, but that they get their animals from a humane source," Baierschmidt said. "Too often a lot of these dogs and cats and rabbits come from puppy mills in the Midwest that have deplorable conditions, and many times these animals … may already be sick or have behavioral problems or genetic problems."
While there may not be suspect pet stores in Salt Lake City, Baierschmidt said there are others throughout Utah (he declined to name them) that may sometimes purchase from commercial puppy mills. He encouraged more Utah cities to pass similar ordinances.
"People need to think twice before they purchase," he said, calling the proposed ordinance a "preemptive strike" against pet stores that may open in Salt Lake City in the future that buy from puppy mills.
Overall, Baierschmidt said such ordinances will help "reduce the suffering of animals."
"As a society, we have an obligation to reduce suffering as much as possible, and what this will do hopefully will cause these puppy mills to be, 10 years from now, nonexistent," he said.