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Lawmakers Hear Puppy Plea from Pet Industry

by Hugh McQuaid | Dec 4, 2013 6:51pm
(4) Comments | Commenting has expired

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Michael Stolkey, director of corporate sales for the Hunte Corporation

Representatives of the pet store industry sought Wednesday to discourage lawmakers from banning the sale of puppies from commercial breeders.

A legislative task force heard hours of public testimony on puppy mills — a term for commercial breeders where dogs are produced in high numbers and inhumane conditions. Advocates contend that many of the animals sold in pet shops were born at these commercial breeders.

Lawmakers on the task force are weighing proposals, including whether the state should prohibit the sale of cats and dogs at pet shops to prevent animals raised in those conditions from being sold in the state.

During the several-hour hearing, the panel heard from people on both sides of the issue, but representatives of the pet industry told the group they believe the problem is largely the result of a number of bad actors who are not regulated by the federal government.

Michael Stolkey, director of corporate sales for the Hunte Corporation, said his Missouri-based company has been the victim of “outright smear campaigns.” Hunte buys puppies from breeders and distributes them to pet stores around the country.

Stolkey said his company is a leader in pet care education and only works with breeders who have been licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think every puppy that’s sold, from any place, including shelters, should be coming from a U.S.D.A.-licensed professional breeder. The holes in the system right now are because that is not necessarily the case,” he said.

Stolkey said licensed breeders are open to inspection “and they welcome that inspection because they are professional and they want to do the right thing for the dogs.”

However, others at the hearing questioned whether a license from the U.S.D.A. actually indicates a high-quality environment for puppies.

“I read all the time that we don’t have enough inspectors for nuclear plants. How many inspectors do you think are out there in the field finding these violations?” asked Kenneth Bernhard, a lawyer and former state representative.

Bernhard said many dogs are raised in “horrific conditions” and most breeding facilities are either not inspected or are inspected so rarely by the federal government “that it doesn’t matter.”

“There’s no sanctuary in the definition of a U.S.D.A. sanctioned facility because the standards are so minimal it doesn’t give me any comfort,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. Brenda Kupchick

The panel is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly to inform legislation to be drafted next year on the sale of dogs and cats. The task force was a compromise for several lawmakers who sought legislation this year to prohibit selling pets in the state unless the pets came from family-owned breeders, animal rescue operations, or shelters.

Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a Fairfield Republican who co-chairs the group, said she believed pet stores mobilized their staffs to testify against the ban at the hearing. Kupchick favors limiting pet stores so they can only sell “humanly-sourced” dogs. She said she has emails from residents around Connecticut who overwhelmingly favor the ban.

Dogs from puppy mills are “treated worse than livestock and these are dogs. Dogs require human attention, they thrive on being around humans,” she said. “To lock them in a cage all day long, no human interaction day after day . . . it’s abuse.”

According to the Legislative Research Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture received 129 complaints about Connecticut pet shops between January 2010 and July 2013. Thirty-seven of the complaints were pertaining to sick or defective animals, the report found.

Nationwide, at least 28 municipalities have enacted prohibitions on pet sales, according to the legislative research. In July, advocates in the town of Branford tried unsuccessfully to pass such a ban.

Although Kupchik and other supporters want to limit where pet stores can buy their puppies, some lawmakers have opposed the ban. On Wednesday, Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, told the panel he thought the pet industry had been demonized on the issue and, as a result, some business owners in the state are concerned.

“In my district we just experienced Black Friday and these pet stores are being picketed constantly and I think that some of the information that’s out there is just not accurate,” he said. “They’re good neighbors. I think we can all work in unison and come up with an appropriate solution for the state of Connecticut.”

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(4) Comments

posted by: StillRevolting | December 4, 2013  9:03pm

We don’t really need a sourcing law for pet stores. On the other hand, I would encourage anyone looking for a dog in particular to visit, “family-owned breeders, animal rescue operations, or shelters.” and am glad the state is using this language. Litter-a-year family kennels run in the red and that’s fine with them. You won’t get a puppy from most of these folks if you don’t have a fence or if you are single and have a 14-hour per day job. It is all about the dogs and the improvement of the breed(s). Breed-specific rescue may be an option if you don’t care about a show dog but are focused on a particular breed. Shelters are wonderful options for pets. A pet store should be last on the list for anything other than a goldfish. Pets and profit are a little odd together. Push your money across a kitchen table where you can get advice on the best type of collar for your dog’s hair and the best vets in town, or, to an organization who will use your money to save the next unwanted pet-store puppy. Don’t push it at shareholders who may or may not have ever made a companion out of an animal and are supporting puppy-mill practices through their ownership.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 5, 2013  7:19pm

StillRevolting, you seem to make a good argument in favor of sourcing laws while rejecting them.  Clearly you want animals to be treated humanely, you think profits and pets are a bad combination, and you urge people to adopt rather than purchase.  I totally agree, which is why I support regulations.

posted by: StillRevolting | December 6, 2013  9:16pm

Hi LongJohn, Clear agreement on the core issue of animal welfare. Just so disgusted with Hartford that I don’t even trust them to get this right and would prefer consumer information and the good choices hopefully resulting from it to another piece of poorly written, badly implemented legislation. Certainly twenty, ten, perhaps as little as two or three years ago, (about the same time as my last vote for a Democrat in anything other than a local race) regulation would have been one of the first ideas that came to mind for a fix. At this point, with the one-party rule the Connecticut electorate has imposed on itself, the clearly disastrous results it has produced, and my lack of faith in our willingness to change it next fall, the gold dome has become the last place I look for answers to anything. The less they “accomplish” in Hartford, the better off I am as a resident of my native and much-loved state. Please note that I have yet to crawl into a cave and am still on the lookout for good ideas as demonstrated by the applause I offered for the specific language being discussed by the panel. I have just literally been reduced to that low a level of trust and faith in the people we have sent to the capitol to do this kind of business for us. Need a law, let’s talk about looking at the sourcing of any mammal in a cage at a pet store. Pet stores should sell food, accessories, and perhaps, living things that came out of eggs. Consumers should know that they will do far better in backyards and barnyards for dogs, cats, rabbits and anything that else that needs to be born and raised. I don’t even trust Hartford to make this simple message clear through legislation and that makes me sad.

posted by: sam123 | December 11, 2013  11:27am

Banning pet stores from selling dogs does not solve the real issue of puppy mills. pet stores are easy targets, but are the ones that work the hardest to ensure that they have the healthiest dogs. without pet stores people turn to the internet to buy. Here they find places that deliver right to their home. why? so you dont see the facilities that they come from. people say they should buy directly from the breeder…but we are essentially lazy so if you can easily buy off the internet and not travel an hour to visit one breeder never mind if you need to visit 2,3 or more, people will do that. even if you do visit the breeder how many people are qualified to know what to look for? Responsible pet stores do this work for consumers to help them make good choices on healthy pups. without them the puppy mill activity will flourish even more with internet buying…woof!