In recent weeks, New York joined a handful of other states in banning the retail sale of dogs and cats from pet stores. What is being called the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act was signed into law by the state’s governor, making it official. Activists believe the ban will eliminate markets for commercial breeders of pets that they refer to as puppy mills. In other words, with pet stores out of the way, commercial breeders will have no choice but to reduce their output. But is this logic rational? More importantly, is the ban itself a just way to approach the problem?
In New York and in other states that have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats, pet stores aren’t the issue. By far, the vast majority oppose animal cruelty, which is why they got into the business of pets from the start. Not only will the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act severely cut their revenue stream and potential to survive. But it will also eliminate many in the industry who advocate for ethical pet sales. Plus, the law will do little if anything to deter commercial breeders from breeding or those who behave badly. It would thus seem this is simply another misguided pursuit that will ultimately achieve nothing that was intended.
“Ending the puppy mill pipeline to New York State signifies the triumph of compassion over the evils inherent in a cruel industry that pursues profits by subjecting innocent animals to barbarous treatment.” – Linda Rosenthal, New York Democrat Assemblywoman
An Overview of the Real Problem
As highlighted by animal rights supporters, animal cruelty and unethical commercial breeders are big problems. Reportedly, there are over 10,000 “puppy mills” in the U.S., and each year, over 2 million dogs are bred. Some of these breeders fail to care for the animals in a humane manner, leading to appropriate outrage and anger. These are certainly the targets of the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act, but it’s unlikely they will be affected. The ban will do nothing to prevent the retail sale of dogs and cats directly from these breeders to consumers. Advocates of the law presumed pet buyers would tour such facilities before buying, thus reducing a bad breeder’s sales. But in reality, this is not likely to occur. Consumers previously relied on their local pet stores to screen away such breeders, and now, they will be out of the loop.
The Puppy Mill Pipeline Act will also not affect private home breeders in the state either. Here again, most private breeders do so in a compassionate and ethical manner. But as with any industry, a few do not. While it may be more likely for customers to visit these sites directly in the state, the law does not ban these sales at all. Such breeders are less likely than pet stores to insist on veterinary care before a purchase. Similarly, they are less likely to follow up with a buyer after the retail sale of dogs and cats to a pet owner. Pet stores served this role in communities across the state, but this will no longer be the case. As is evident, it’s improbable that the new law will have any real effect on commercial breeders or on better pet sales.
“By ending licensed and regulated local pet stores, you will remove the people who vet breeders, ensure the health of newly homed pets with established veterinarians, and guarantee the success of a new pet family.” – Jessica Selmer, President of PUPPI (People United to Protect Pet Integrity
Weak Attempts at Concessions
In the debates prior to the passage of the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act, the hardship against pet store owners was recognized. As a result, the governor did make some concessions and changes to the law. For one, the ban against the retail sale of dogs and cats by pet stores will not take effect until January of 2024. This allows them a year to explore new revenue options. At the same time, the law allows pet stores to charge rent to pet shelters for on-site pet adoption events. Given that there are over 6.5 million pets in such shelters in the U.S., this seemed reasonable. But once again, the logic is not as thorough as it might appear.
For one, pet stores earn revenue from the sale of many pet-related items. But given competitors like PetSmart, Walmart, and Amazon, these sales are not very lucrative despite the pet industry being powerful. Instead, most smaller pet stores stay afloat through the retail sale of dogs, cats and other pets. By providing screening services for potential pet owners, they are able to make a reasonable profit. Replacing these sales with rent charged to pet shelters will not make up the difference. Animal shelters are mostly non-profit and run on tight margins as well. Any rent charged will result in result in higher prices to pet adopters. This in turn will reduce pet adoptions overall, and thus, result in fewer opportunities to collect rent.
“Eight-five percent of our business is puppies, so you make it illegal for pet stores to sell pets, how are they going to stay in business?” – Emilio Ortiz, Manager of Citipups
A Disturbing Trend Across the Nation
New York is one of several states to pass such a ban against the retail sale of dogs and cats among pet store owners. The first state to do so was California in 2017. In 2020, Maryland also passed such a law with Illinois doing so last year. Therefore, the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act is not the first such misguided move by state legislatures. Instead it highlights a concerning trend where states believe they can solve social problems through government-led market interference. In each of these cases, honest business owners are being punished by their own states unjustly. And this is occurring via laws that make little sense and will have no real impact in realizing their intended goals. Punishing actual crime is one thing. But market interference as a means to discourage bad actions hurts too many innocent business owners along the way.