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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced this week at the Utah Legislature would ban the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores throughout the state.
HB420, sponsored by House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, would make statewide a prohibition already enacted by several Utah cities, including Salt Lake. The bill is backed by the Utah Humane Society, and its advocacy director Rachel Heatley told KSL.com the law is necessary to end abusive and neglectful breeding practices in the state.
"Dogs and cats in pet stores generally do not come from any sort of, what people call 'reputable breeders,' breeders of healthy dogs and cats," Heatley said. "Generally, these animals come from commercial puppy and kitten mills." Such "mills" can be large or small, Heatley said, but all have similar identifying markers.
Many of them, for instance, keep their animals in small, stacked wire cages where waste can pass through the floors. And they don't provide adequate access to veterinary care, she said, which can lead to unexpected health complications for the humans that purchase them.
"They may have epilepsy, they may have heart defects," Heatley said. "They may have hip dysplasia, or a luxating patella, which is a problem with the kneecap. A lot of things that are difficult for people to deal with."
And because of the lack of oversight and minimal regulation, it's difficult to know what vaccinations, if any, the animals have received. King said consumer protection through greater transparency is a key consideration of the bill.
Neglected dogs and cats can also have painful problems like overgrown toenails, matted fur and dental disease, Heatley said.
"Basically, these commercial breeders put profit over the welfare of the animals," she said. "They breed them as quickly as possible, as many as possible."
Such rampant breeding, Heatley argues, is adding supply to inadequate demand. About 1.5 million shelter animals are put down in the United States each year, she said. A lot of these animals are imported from other states like Missouri and Ohio, where mills are more common.
"Market forces are not compatible with the humane treatment of these puppies or kittens," King said. Under his bill, pet stores could still display dogs and cats up for adoption from a shelter or rescue organization.
In an emailed statement, PetSmart, one of the largest national pet supply brands, said it does not support bans on dog and cat sales even though it has always used shelter animals in its own stores.
"At PetSmart, we have never sold dogs or cats," the company said. "Through our PetSmart Charities In-store Adoption Program, we have worked with local animal welfare organizations to help more than 9.5 million pets find lifelong homes since 1994. While this legislation would not directly affect PetSmart because we do not sell dogs or cats, we believe enhanced regulations on breeders to ensure all animals are raised in humane environments are more effective than bans, which restrict pet parents' choices."
King acknowledged the bill will be difficult to push through in the final days of the general legislative session; it ends on Friday, March 5.
"We're going to do our best to see what we can accomplish," he said. "A discussion about this is always a good thing. Having a dialogue and raising awareness is one of the primary things we're looking at here."
As of Thursday, HB420 is awaiting a committee assignment for a first hearing.