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Banning The Sale of Pets In Pet Shops Could Just As Easily Backfire

Updated on October 6, 2016
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Ideology And Practicality Seem To Clash

In a true “trick or treat” move, the Los Angeles (CA) City Council, on October 31, 2012, voted 13-2 to ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores in that city. The Los Angeles Times says that L.A. is the largest American city to enact such a ban and 20 pet stores will be affected.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) spoke against the legislation at an October 2 public hearing and said that 11 of L.A.’s pet stores could go out of business if the legislation is adopted.

The goal of the legislation is noble, but like so much of that type of government action, misdirected and short sighted. The general consensus is that all pet stores sell puppy mill puppies and other animals that are bred and maintained for sale under inhumane conditions. Of course, that’s not automatically the case. While some pet stores do, most don’t. There are bad operators in every industry.

It’s the bad operators that should be shut down. Not all operators. Since the early 90s we’ve seen state, county and local jurisdictions enacting animal protection legislation that sets husbandry standards for commercial operations ranging from breeders to groomers.


Laws also require extensive record-keeping. When I had my feed and grain store we took in homeless kittens and sold them (with a low-cost spay/neuter certificate) for $50. We had to maintain records identifying their source and their disposition. We also had to maintain health records while they were here. We were not allowed to sell them more than 7 days beyond the date of their state-mandated Health Certificate.

It went like this: We’d take the kittens in, administer a de-wormer, and after their quarantine period bring them to our vet for vaccinations and an exam. Let’s say a kitten was examined on the 10th of the month. If it didn’t find a home by the 17th, we’d have to bring it back to the vet for another exam. If it didn’t find a home by the 24th, back to the vet for another exam. And so it went.

Luckily, our kittens never lasted more than a couple of days. We’d been doing it for decades, had an impeccable reputation, and, to this day, I have customers stop me and tell me they still have the cat they got from us X number of years ago.

Pet stores are not only under government microscopes, but (and, perhaps more effectively) public scrutiny more than most other industries; and the bad operators, if not shut down, either wilt on the vine because of public scorn, or clean up their act and become respectable.

It’s not just the animal rights activists that are keeping their eyes on things, either. The general public is also vigilant, and will drop a dime when it sees conditions that it considers sub-standard.

A lot of times, though, the public’s idea of sub-standard conditions is anytime an animal is not maintained in the lap of luxury. Over and over I’ve heard pet owners complain that they file a complaint and Animal Control or the SPCA does nothing about it.

That’s because the animals in question are being maintained in accordance with regulated husbandry standards, even though those standards don’t meet with the complainant’s approval.


Being a former feed and grain store owner, I’m also against heavy-handed legislation that hurts small businesses and puts people out of work. How many people in those L.A. pet stores will lose their jobs? Doesn’t California lead the nation in municipal bankruptcies?

How much do you want to bet that in a few years I’ll be writing an article about the underground pet trade in Los Angeles? While the law doesn’t apply to animal shelters, humane societies, nonprofit rescue organizations or breeders (just pet stores), there’s a feeling that black market pets will suddenly find a market for themselves. Who’s going to inspect those facilities?

And watch out, Burbank! Your legislators are also considering a law that would ban the retail sale of dogs and cats, except from registered nonprofit animal rescues, adoption agencies or shelter groups.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Speaking of ferrets, I get a kick out of people who say theirs was "de-scented." You can't de-scent them. You can remove their anal sacs, but all that does is eliminate their signature scent from their stools. They have glands all over their bodies that secrete musk, and that's what gives them their odor.

      They're nice pets, though. It's strange because, in the wild, they're known to be aggressive and ferocious. Too bad they're so short-lived.

      They were extremely popular here in Massachusetts in the mid-90's when the state legalized them, but the polish has pretty much worn off that shoe now.

    • lanablackmoor profile image


      6 years ago from New England

      Thanks Bob, I really enjoyed reading your article. :) It provoked a lot of thoughts. I absolutely agree, and understand since I'm an animal person myself. So much so that my fiancée and I are planning to start our own breed one day when we have a good amount of land, so I can see both sides of the coin as someone who wants to rescue animals, but also the breeder's perspective.

      Yes, it is a wonderful store from what I've seen. I think that other pet stores do have the option, but many sadly choose poor quality breeders at a cheap price over high quality lines for more.

      Yes, it certainly feels like a zoo sometimes! :) We actually have them in separate aquariums on a double stand, so that saves space and makes cleaning easier. They're never out at the same time, even though our snake has some trouble viewing rodents as food. Our cats adore the rat, too, but likewise we never take a chance on having them out in the same room together. As for the puppy, the cats have bossed him around from an early age, so he knows to give them a wide berth! I've heard ferrets are famous for their shrieking almost as much as their musk! Poor rabbit.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Great comments, Lana, thanks for contributing. I'm sure you'll agree that "animal people" are a passionate lot and sometimes given to emotion over common sense and logic. I think that's what drives the call for bans.

      But I've been dealing with animal people, at the retail level, for more than two decades and, as a group, I couldn't have found a greater group of people. I enjoyed every minute and always woke up looking forward to going to work. I still see customers on the streets and in the stores and it always adds to my day.

      The pet store you describe sounds like a terrific operation. I wonder if the type of option they enjoy is available to other stores that just choose to decline. It sounds like a perfect solution...especially where the pups are not alone overnight when the store is closed.

      That's a pretty impressive zoo you've got there...especially the snake and rat. How does that predator/prey relationship work out? I had a customer who owned a ferret and a rabbit, which they kept widely separated. But every once in a while the rabbit would catch a whiff of the ferret and screech like a banshie.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • lanablackmoor profile image


      6 years ago from New England

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and bringing up such a timely issue. It's certainly very controversial in my area, and while I used to be one of those "ban all pet stores from selling puppies" people, I've changed the more I've looked into the industry.

      You're certainly right that the problem is bad operators, not all operators. There are even charities that operate unscrupulously, inhumanely and deceptively, yet I don't see legislation being enacted to ban all charities. As a society, we really need to move away from these knee jerk legislation.

      There is a pet store in our area that only buys from reputable local breeders. I know for a fact that these animals live in the breeder's home and are well taken care of and socialized. They are only kept in display for a small amount of time, allowed a period of adjustment before they can be handled, and at the end of the day they go back home to the breeder to play and frolick with their brothers and sisters. There is a huge difference between a breeder and a mill, but then again, there are those who don't think you should be allowed to breed either.

      Such restrictive legislation boggles my mind. I always get cats from the humane society because the area is so overrun with strays. It just seems irresponsible to me to pay for a designer breed which isn't really important to me when there are plenty of cats at the shelter. But dogs, in my opinion, are a different matter.

      There are temperament and health issues to consider that affect the animal's quality of life and interaction with your family far more than a cat. Not all dog breeds work for all families, and miseducation about this fact is the number one reason animals end up in shelters in the first place.

      If I want a German Shepherd because that dog is ideal for my family, I don't think I should be forced to adopt a mixed breed from the pound. It's a wonderful option to have, but it's not for everyone and legislators should respect that.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Patty, you're certainly not a pest and I appreciate your interest and dialogue. You raise some good points, but as always, there are two (or more) sides to a story.

      I can't speak for the rest of New England, but in my area we do rescue a lot of dogs from the South, where the culture is different. I had customers who got dogs that were rescued from the aftermath of Katrina.

      And beyond that, people would come in looking for start up supplies because they were rescuing a dog from the South. What made it even better was the excitement they exuded.

      The Internet has done wonders for animal rescue!!! Shelter and rescue groups can network with others all across the country pretty much for free, which is about all most shelters can afford.

      The screening process is good, of course, and it would be better if pet stores did it. We did a cursory screening, and did deny a few families over the years, but the fact is: this is America.

      You have to meet established standards to graduate or hold public office, for example; but you don't have to meet established standards to buy a house or a pet. The way I see it, there are two key issues.

      There are no established standards for pet ownership and there is no oversight on shelter volunteers who sit in judgement of mature, responsible adults who want to own a pet and are willing to adopt a shelter animal. But, alas, no system is perfect.

      A lot of shelter volunteers shopped at our store and I would hear many of the horror stories they had to tell. And I would hear the heartwarming ones as well.

      But, in spite of their screening, they would have animals returned within days for head-shaking reasons.

      Last Saturday a couple of local businesses that are next to each other held an event to raise money for our shelter. They had vendors with booths and an ugly dog contest (one of the businesses, a family-owned book store, is called Ugly Dog Books) .

      I served as one of the judges, along with our state representative and one of the city councilors. It was a fun thing. We held up signs with a number on it for each dog, but no one kept score and each dog got a treat, each owner got a prize. It was a lot of fun.

      My wife and I also set up a booth because we still have some inventory left from closing the store. I talked to 14 different people who had a dog with them, and 12 of them were rescues. That warms the heart a bit, doesn't it?

      I continue to hold that pet stores meet a need and that most of them don't deserve our scorn. In Massachusetts, they're held to higher regulatory standards than the MSPCA shelters, and the MSPCA is one organization that has authority over them.

      Dog tracks were also held to higher regulatory standards than those imposed on shelters, and we killed the racing industry and put people out of work. Let's not kill another one.

      Thanks, again, for the dialogue. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest

      Hi Bob! You know, I was totally clueless to the plight of the shelter animal until 10 years ago. I was just an average animal lover with one cat....but once you dig in, work in the trenches and see how senseless (and avoidable) the over population is, it's hard to be indifferent. I made it a mission to gain as much first hand knowledge about every thing associated with breeding, shelters, rescues, etc. before forming my opinion and deciding to become part of the solution.

      Your New England states are wonderful when it comes to welcoming shelter pets as quite a few transports have regular routes from the South heading to MA, NH, VT. Many southern shelters still use the gas chambers, so as a nation we still have quite a bit of work to do when it comes to respecting homeless animals.

      When my city doesn't euth 24 animals a day, I may change my mind. OR if I quit receiving emails like this one:

      "I know of a family with 3 children under 4, that had bought a Papillon Puppy (which is 12 weeks old) 1 week ago from Uncle Bill's Pet store. They have had the pup 1 week and the pup has worms. Not surprising. It has been at the vet for 3 days, treating the worms, but the family no longer wants the dog. They have $2000 tied up in the puppy. They paid $1100 for her. They are going to try to find a home and if not, said they would go the rescue route. They were not prepared for the housebreaking, chewing and all the other puppy things. Sounds familiar. Anyway, if there is a rescue interested in taking this pup in 1 week, with all her toys, crates, etc, please let H.E.A.R.T. know. The pup weighs only 2 pounds now."

      The above email is exactly why rescues screen applicants and do home visits. The last time I was at Pet Supplies Plus, I asked a couple of fellow customers if their dogs were rescued or not. I found 2 breeder customers. I asked why they chose breeders and both responded the same. Each said the easiness of getting the animal--just handed over a check and walked out with the puppy. Each had initially looked into adopting as they had no breed preference but didn't like answering a bunch of questions! It, sadly, just boiled down to convenience and what will happen if those pups become inconvenient in the future?

      Thanks, Bob, for a great article and thoughtful comment~


    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Patty, I'm shocked. I never would have believed you'd have an opinion on this subject. :)

      As Theophanes pointed out in his comment beneath yours, adopting from a shelter is not for everyone. I don't know how it is where you are, but around here there is a small dark cloud that hangs over anything called a shelter or rescue organization.

      I've heard a lot of people complain that they don't want to go through what they call "the crap" the volunteers put you through to adopt a pet. They say it's easier to adopt a child.

      There is a bit of resentment towards arguably qualified individuals, who don't possess any credentials, sitting in judgement of one's suitability as a pet parent, and the suitability of their dwelling.

      As a frequent reader of my hubs, you know I hold those volunteers in high esteem and have sung their praises repeatedly in articles I've written. And that hasn't changed.

      But, all it takes is a few obnoxious, over-zealous volunteers to stain the entire organization. Over the years I've been told in confidence that many organizations try to weed out those individuals, but it's so hard to get volunteers in the first place, it creates a terrible dilemma.

      I wouldn't automatically condemn a pet store that sells animals any more than I'd automatically condemn the screening process at shelters. Each serves a purpose but, unfortunately, there are abuses. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

      Hi Theophanes, nice to see you again. You raise some valid points. As Pages By Patty pointed out, this is a hot button issue with her...but we all know it's a hot button issue with a lot of folks.

      There will be disagreements that probably will never be resolved. Both sides have the animals' best interests at heart, but each views the issues differently.

      The repairman didn't like your husbandry standards, but I'll bet he liked your money! I should think it would be difficult for such a person to be successful if he recklessly sticks his nose where it doesn't belong. You know what they good deed goes unpunished. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      6 years ago from New England

      There seem to be a lot of people these days that believe the only animal you should get as a pet are those rescued from shelters... it's a noble thought but it doesn't quite work for everyone. Breeds exist in the first place because someone somewhere wanted a dog or cat that looked the same and had many of the same personality attributes of one they had come to know and like. Although shelters do take in purebreeds all the time they usually are adopted pretty fast (unless they're from a puppy mill and have some huge medical or temperament issue.) In any event I think its these people who are driving these changes. I have seen so many new laws enacted over the past few years that do little but punish good breeders, leaving bad ones to run the black market as they have always done. If your aim is to punish bad puppy mills then do so directly... Christ there was a woman here in her 80's busted TWICE for running a puppy mill out of her barn. She had 75 dogs in cages in her house and well over 100 in cages in the unheated barn. Now if we were really serious about making her stop we would have not just slapped her with a fine and taken away her animals (which were easily replaced) we should have enacted a law saying that people guilty of these crimes have lost their right to breed any animal period. That is punishing mills directly.

      You are also right when it comes to people not understanding the law as far as when its appropriate to call the animal police. I was reported once a repairman came into my home to fix something because I had a group of cats in large multi-layer cages. The man didn't bother to ask me why they were being kept in this way, if he had I would have told him the truth - they were semi-feral rescues I was treating (21 whole days!) for coccidia, something I would have never been able to do if they were running loose. I just wouldn't be able to catch the little buggars! As a breeder who has taken in a LOT of rescues besides I have to say I agree with your article - keep everything out in the open where it should be, not in the dark! I know most of the pet stores in my area. Of them I can only think of one that sells puppy mill dogs and its in a mall and that''s all it sells. The rest get their pups and kitties off rescues and small local breeders. It works well so it should be left alone.

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest

      As you can imagine, Bob, this is a HOT button topic for me! :)

      No need for pet stores to go out of business--simply partner with a shelter or rescue! Petco, Pet Supplies Plus, PetSmart all do it.

      Rescues are inundated with animals purchased at stores (Uncle Bill's, Petland & the like) because of health problems, buyer remorse, etc.

      I have yet to meet a breeder (you know, they all claim to be it solely for the "love of the breed") who doesn't laugh when I propose he/she donate profits to a breed rescue or volunteer time or accept returns!

      The problem is so complex, so vast and so acute that there is no immediate remedy; however, banning sales is a huge part of the solution.

      And kudos for helping the homeless kittens. I certainly know how much effort it takes to care for and peddle the fur babies!


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