BY CLAY JACKSON
California might be the first state to invoke an out- right ban on pet stores selling dogs, cats and rabbits. The California State Assembly passed the Pet
Rescue and Adoption Act, aka AB 485, in May, ratcheting
up the debate on how much is too much when it comes to
balancing animal welfare concerns with the rights of pet
stores, pet breeders and pet owners. The bill, as it now
stands, would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits unless
they are obtained from a shelter or rescue; AB 485 does
not cover reptiles, birds, fish or small mammals.
With similar pet store bans already enacted in more
than 30 California cities, including Los Angeles, San Di-
ego and San Francisco, Steve Dale, a pet advocate and
certified animal behavior consultant, noted that “Califor-
nians are already more than halfway there.”
However, Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet
Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), doesn’t think
a statewide law restricting dog, cat and rabbit sales is
“California’s pet and consumer protection regime is
already substantial,” he said. “This would simply be a
small change in terms of enforcement.”
One of Bober’s chief complaints is that AB 485 makes
no distinction among breeders.
“[The pet store bans] dangerously lump all breeders
together under the ‘puppy mill’ epithet and abuse the
Still, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, co-author
of the bill, argues that “just because a facility is USDA
licensed doesn’t mean it is not a puppy mill.”
“To say there is a difference between the two is ex-
tremely misleading,” he said.
O’Donnell also contends that one unifying statewide
law will make it simpler for pet stores to comply rather than having to deal with the current morass of local
“This bill codifies the best business practices of what
the majority of pet stores in this state already do,” he said.
Whitie’s Pets in Fresno, Calif., is one pet business that has
already ceased its sale of dogs. General manager Jay Shafer said the store stopped selling dogs years ago because
he noticed an uptick in dogs that were getting euthanized
in his area.
Whitie’s philosophy is to not to be “part of the problem,” said Shafer, which is what led the store to stop selling very large snakes, parrots and iguanas that people
can’t seem to care for properly, Shafer added.
Whitie’s does not sell cats but provides space in its
store for local cat rescues to offer felines for adoption.
Shafer supports including dogs and
cats in the bill but finds the inclusion
of rabbits unwarranted.
“From my experience, the rabbit
part of it is unnecessary,” he said.
“I haven’t seen an overpopulation
rabbit problem. I never even heard
anyone mention it except for this
bill—it’s new to me.”
Whitie’s sells purebred rabbits
and has worked with a local breeder for about 20 years;
the store also gets its reptiles from local breeders.
If AB 485 becomes the law and Whitie’s could no longer work with its rabbit breeder, Shafer said the store
would simply stop selling rabbits. Whitie’s does sell a lot
of rabbits, but they are only a small part of sales. According to Shafer, the impact of no longer being able to sell
rabbits would be “negligible” if the bill passed.
“I’m not too upset that it might punish a few people
that don’t deserve to be punished—if that’s the word
someone wants to use to describe the situation—but it
is doing whatever they can to end animal suffering,”
Andy’s Pet Shop has been a fixture in San Jose, Calif.,
since 1950, and the previous owners’ main source of income was the sale of purebred puppies and birds.
In 2007, Lissa Shoun bought Andy’s and changed the
store policy to offer only rescued pets.
Shoun admits that cutting out the most-profitable part
of the business just when the economy took a nosedive
“hurt financially a great deal.”
Andy’s managed, however, “on donations and good
press supporting our 100 percent rescue mission,”
Besides cats and dogs, Andy’s sells rescued hamsters,
guinea pigs, reptiles, birds and even “second-hand” fish.
“The local ordinances were and are still quite easy to
meet,” she said. “Andy’s is still ahead of the curve in of-
fering 100 percent rescued pets.”
Shoun doesn’t think AB 485 will have a tremendous
impact on business one way or another.
“It’s now rare to find a California pet store that sells
dogs or cats,” she said.
“A law that bans selling unfixed dogs, cats and rabbits
would do more to stop the overpopulation,” Shoun noted, which is similar to what AB 485 aims to do by mandating that pet stores sell only dogs, cats and rabbits from
shelters and rescues, which typically neuter or spay their
“The ban may encourage pet stores to offer rescued
pets instead of dropping pet sales altogether,” Shoun add-
ed. “Many people would never go to a shelter but would
purchase a pet from a store.”
SENATE TO WEIGH IN
AB 485 currently resides in the California Senate, but
Bober is hopeful that the Senate’s version of the bill will
be more inclusive of the interests of pet stores, dog, cat
and rabbit breeders, and California pet owners.
“The Senate is a bit of a different animal,” Bober said.
“There are fewer senators, so there are greater odds of a
pet store being in a senator’s district.
“Furthermore, [PIJAC has] had more time to educate
senators about the alternative approaches to responsible
pet sales that are likely to have a greater impact on animal
well-being and consumer protection,” he added.
O’Donnell said that his bill in no way impedes pet
owners from buying direct from breeders, which is how
many Californians wanting a purebred dog or cat in the
state now acquire one.
O’Donnell has met with pet stores and breeders in an
effort to work toward a compromise, he said.
“Those conversations are ongoing.”
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Still, Bober said, “There should be a regulated market for
responsibly raised companion animals.”
“Eliminating this will cause people to go to other sourc-
es for pets—unreliable, unsafe sources such as Craigslist
or the black market. It’s a simple matter of supply and
demand, and both pets and people will suffer,” he added.
Bober said the pet industry faces an uphill battle in
a state where the debate has been controlled by ani-mal-rights groups for many years.
“We can’t expect the public to give us the same trust
they give the activist community when activists have
spent the past decade defining the pet industry as prof-it-driven and unconcerned with animal welfare,” he said.
Meanwhile, similar legislation to AB 485 is being considered in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and
Virginia. However, Bober said both the Virginia and Connecticut measures appear dead for the moment. For more
on PIJAC’s position on pet-ban-related legislation, see the
Viewpoints column on page 24.
Statewide Ban of Dog,
Cat and Rabbit Sales
The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act passed in the State Assembly
and currently resides in the Senate for approval.
“[The pet store bans] dangerously lump all breeders together under the ‘puppy mill’ epithet
and abuse the public’s trust.”—Mike Bober of PIJAC