Pet Sale Regulations Vs Pet Ownership

Where do you go if you wanted to acquire a pet dog? Your current options are: the nearby pet stores, the rescue or animal shelter, or check out the morning paper or the internet for resources. Or ask a dog-owner friend for referrals. If you are in San Francisco your options may be limited. Soon.

The San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare will discuss a proposed ban on the sale of dogs and cats, and a host of other small animals, including birds and fish. The proposed ordinance provides that in San Francisco people could acquire pets “of all species” only through pet store adoptions, direct retail sale by small breeders, or adoption from shelters or animal rescue organizations. All other pet sales, including by pet stores, would be completely prohibited.

To pet owners and dog lovers, the difference between pet store adoption and pet store sale may be just a question of semantics. Or maybe price. So call it adoption, not a sale. Problem solved.

Not that easy. Because businesses are involved. The proposed ban on pet sale impacts a business that nationally generated $2.16 billion in live animal purchases in 2009. It is estimated to have grown to $2.21 billion in 2010, according to a 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

As the pet sale business grows, so do the issues and problems arising from pet over-population and unwanted animals. The proposed ban is expected to stop the sale of dogs and cats from puppy mills and decreasing euthanasia rates of other small animals in city shelters.

It is easy to get carried away by so-called national statistics on animals that go in and out of shelters, or those that are euthanized. Supporters of pet sale ban also cite the big cost to the taxpayer in rounding up, housing, killing, and disposing of homeless animals. Recent cost figures cited are almost equal to the business generated by the live animal purchase industry. But it is just as easy to lose the trail in verifying the real source of these statistics. The reality is there, however: it costs taxpayer money to address these problems.

While the issue is being addressed in San Francisco, it is not an isolated problem. Local and state agencies across the country — Los Angeles, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii, for instance — are faced with the same problems and are proposing similar or related initiatives controlling pet sale and ownership. And while the problems are being addressed on the local and state levels, the outcomes will have nationwide, even global, impact because of the nature of the pet sale business itself and the internet.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), a non-profit service-oriented organization based in Washington D.C. and comprised by members of the pet industry and people who care about pets, is vigilant about government control and regulations. In San Francisco, the PIJAC has campaigned against the ban in multiple meetings after the proposed ban was introduced last year. PIJAC believes in re-homing adaptable animals, not limiting the availability of pets to the public, to solve the shelter issue. And pet retailers have committed to re-home adoptable animals from shelters, a commitment which the local council deems is not the answer.

PIJAC supports the right of individuals to responsibly own pets and to have the options as to where to get them according to their preference. It also maintains that pet stores provide healthy, responsibly raised pets to the public and should be an option, and that the public should not be discouraged from pet ownership by imposing costly and burdensome government restrictions.

While the issue in San Francisco is divided between the local government agency and animal rights groups on one hand and PIJAC and its supporters on the other hand, the pet owners sector has a role to play. In the case of pet dogs, what is responsible dog ownership? Where does it start? Does it start with simply wanting a dog and getting one from wherever is convenient or where the price is most affordable? Or does it stretch as far back as to where the dog comes from and under what conditions it was bred? And does that responsibility stretch far into the future with regards to their commitment to having a dog?

Responsible pet ownership then starts the moment you decide at having a pet. But right now, if you are in San Francisco, whatever options you have hang in the balance. If you have strong opinions about this issue, you can let the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare know. If you are outside of San Francisco, the same issues could be in the corridors of the animal welfare commission near you. Ultimately your action may be the factor that will tip the balance — for or against the proposed ban.

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