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Thu, April 25

New law prevents governments from regulating pet stores

PHOENIX - Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Thursday to kill the ability of cities to keep pet stores from selling commercially bred animals.

The new law that takes effect on Aug. 6 most immediately voids existing regulations in Phoenix and Tempe that allow pet stores to sell only rescue and shelter dogs and cats. Those laws are designed at least in part to reduce the number of shelter animals that have to be destroyed.

But it also smothers an ordinance already adopted in Tucson that had been placed on hold awaiting a federal appellate court decision on the rights of cities to enact such rules. Ducey, with his signature, makes the outcome of that case legally irrelevant - and the Tucson measure permanently unenforceable.

While overriding local regulation, the measure does have some concessions for animal rights activists. That includes requiring pet stores to ensure they are obtaining their dogs and cats only from breeders who comply with standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who opposed the deal, said those standards allow breeding animals to be kept in cages round the clock that are only six inches larger than the dog or cat itself. Those cages also can be stacked three high, he said, and need be cleaned only once a week.

Tucson councilman Steve Kozachik was more blunt, calling the standards “an absolute farce,” blasting the legislature - and the governor - for relying on that agency to ensure humane treatment of animals.

“The USDA is in business to inspect meat in Safeway, not to protect the welfare of dogs in stores,” he said. “The governor needs to understand that by signing this bill he’s embracing ‘puppy mill’ standards that the USDA has admitted in its own documents that they are unable to enforce.”

Ducey, clearly defensive about his position, issued a letter citing his own dog ownership.

“Animal welfare is an issue that is close to my heart and of great personal importance,” the governor wrote. “Animal cruelty is disgusting and morally reprehensible.”

But Ducey said he agreed to sign the legislation because it imposes new penalties on pet store owners who do not take steps to ensure that their animals are from breeders that the USDA considers acceptable. Anyway, the governor said, he sees no purpose in telling legitimate pet store owners that they can sell only animals that came from shelters or were rescued. “Shutting down the good guys will do nothing to stop the bad actors,” Ducey wrote. “Rather, it will open the doors for more puppy sales through unregulated sources, where abuse and inhumane conditions are more likely.”

Kozachik also had harsh words for the Humane Society of the United States which agreed not to oppose the measure.

“It’s an absolute sellout,” he said.

But Kellye Pinkleton, the organization’s state director, said that decision simply reflected the political reality that there were the votes to override local ordinances. “Disclosure was a big thing to us so that consumers could know what breeder the dog was coming from so they can look up that breeder,” she said.

The new law requires dealers to put information on each pet’s cage and in any marketing materials about the name of the breeder, the USDA license number and the federal web site where would-be buyers can look up information about that breeder, including disciplinary action.

It also spells out that cities and counties can go after pet stores who sells a dog or cat that they knowingly or should have known came from an unlicensed breeder or a breeder with multiple violations of USDA regulations.

A first-time offense carries a maximum $1,000 penalty, with a $2,500 cap for a second within five years. And any store with three violations within that five years can be not only fined $5,000 but can be prohibited from selling anything but rescue and shelter dogs for up to three years.

But there is as defense: A pet store can argue that it conducted a search of USDA inspection reports and did not find violations.

Farley, however, said there was no reason for the Humane Society to cave.

He conceded Pinkelton’s point that there may not have been the votes in the House or Senate to block legislation preempting local ordinances. But Farley, using Ducey’s own words, said that’s where the governor should have stepped in and used his constitutional power to veto the measure.

“If you actually do believe that animal cruelty is ‘disgusting and morally reprehensible,’ you can take it upon yourself as one man to stop it,” Farley said. “And he decided not to do that.”

Pinkleton did not disagree that the USDA standards are, from her perspective, minimal. But she said said her organization is working with other groups to tighten them up.

As to that veto request, Farley acknowledged that Ducey has signed every bill sent to him this session to preempt local options, including voiding laws limiting use of plastic bags, regulating short-term vacation rentals and requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. But the senator said this is different.

“To do local preemption to allow people to mistreat animals, that’s just a whole ‘nother level of reprehensibility,” he said.

To buttress his credibility, Ducey cited his decision last year to veto legislation that would have weakened protections for animals. And he pointed out that he signed measures this year to protect a herd of wild horses along the Salt River and to end greyhound racing.

He even posted a picture of his own dog, Woody, on Twitter, calling him “a member of the family.”

Pinkleton, defending her group’s decision not to seek a veto, said the new law does contain something else that may help save animals in the long run: a committee to study the breeding of pets by licensed and unlicensed breeders in Arizona and elsewhere. That panel is also supposed to study regulations from other states and look for options to encourage neutering and adoption of animals and “healthy breeding of dogs and cats.”

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