NOTE: The story was recently updated to include quotes about the bill’s sole sponsor, Judie Mancuso, by NOAH’s Andrea Cunningham.
REGION — North County’s animal welfare activism community is hailing the signing of a statewide bill that would ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits that aren’t from a rescue group or a shelter.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week announced the signing of Assembly Bill 485, which State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, introduced in February. The bill had near universal support in Sacramento, passing through both the State Assembly and State Senate with sweeping majorities.
California is the first state to ban retail pet stores from selling animals from commercial kennels, which are sometimes referred to as “puppy mills.”
The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.
The bill had the backing of nearly every animal welfare group statewide, including a strong contingent in North County that had worked for years to pass similar ordinances in cities throughout the county, including in Encinitas, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos.
“We are elated, absolutely elated,” said Andrea Cunningham of the local group Not One Animal Harmed, or N.O.A.H. “It’s the first step of hopefully 49 more in the entire country as each state comes on board.”
The bill, though widely supported in the legislature, was not without opponents. These opponents of the bill — including the American Kennel Club, the California Retailers Association, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and one prominent San Diego County pet store owner — argued that the bill strips consumers of the right to choose where they purchase their animals.
The Coast News reached out to David Salinas, who operates four retail pet outlets in National City, Temecula, Corona and Escondido for comment on the bill’s passage. A reporter contacted both his National City and Escondido store, leaving return contact information with employees.
Salinas had been the most vocal opponent of local efforts to pass ordinances in San Marcos and in Oceanside, where he previously had stores, but shut them down following the passage of the ordinances. He hired a lobbyist to fight the bill.
Salinas, who said in May that AB 485 would effectively put him out of business, said the bill was misguided and that it would prohibit the sale of live animals from kennels that are heavily regulated and allow the adoption of pets from shelters and rescue groups that don’t have the same requirements.
“AB 485 turns a regulated, transparent industry into an unregulated one with no real trace or information as to where the dogs come from,” he said, citing reports of rescue groups importing animals from foreign countries rather than them being true rescues.
He said in the May interview that banning stores like his from selling animals also unfairly limits consumer choice.
“Does the consumer have a choice or is local government going to decide where you are going to buy your products?” Salinas said. “If they do it with pets, what’s next?”
Cunningham said that the law will not put retail pet stores out of business, but simply force them to change their business models, and gives them a year to do so.
“Local ordinances gave them six months, 485 gives them an entire year,” Cunningham said. “The goal is not to put anyone out of business, but help them to become part of the solution, not continue to be the problem.”
Cunningham also said she sees the bill putting a stop to one of the biggest issues activists have encountered in North County: pet store operators simply relocating their operations to cities that don’t have ordinances, which some activists refer to as “sanctuary cities.”
“This ends the game of ‘whack-a-mole’ that has been going on for years,” Cunningham said. “Now there is no place to run, you either need to go humane or go away. It’s entirely their choice.”
Cunningham said that much of the credit for the passage of the state bill needs to go to Judie Mancuso, founder and CEO of the Orange County-based Social Compassion in Legislation, who she said was the driving force behind the statewide effort.
Mancuso, according to the SCIL website, “tirelessly with Assemblymember O’Donnell to build a broad coalition including local governments, public and private animal shelters, pet stores, rescue groups, and animal welfare advocates.”
“There would be no AB 485 without the leadership and dogged determination of the bill’s sole Sponsor: (Mancuso),” Cunningham said. “Her steadfast and unwavering resolve (against some very high stakes) made this historic legislation a reality for California. This was a true ‘David and Goliath’ story.”