By Delia DiCosimo
REGION — On Tuesday, May 30, an Assembly floor vote on California Assembly Bill 485 (also referred to as the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act) passed with a stunning, nearly landslide bipartisan vote of 55-11. The bill will now move to the state Senate.
Introduced by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, AB 485 stipulates that a pet store operator shall not sell a live dog, cat or rabbit in a pet store unless the dog, cat or rabbit was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, or nonprofit rescue organization.
“Puppy mills or kitten factories, are common terms for large commercial breeding facilities that mass produce animals for sale to the public, primarily through retail pet stores,” O’Donnell said. “These facilities tend to be clustered in Midwestern states and are notorious for housing animals in disturbingly unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. With profit put above welfare, animals are often without adequate food, water, socialization or veterinary care. As a result, the animals face an array of health problems, including communicable diseases, behavioral issues and genetic disorders. Because pet stores are several steps removed from the breeding of the animals they sell, store owners rarely know the conditions of their animals. As the awareness of puppy mills and puppies sold for profit continues to grow, pet stores across the country have changed the way they do business.”
O’Donnell went on to cite major pet retailers Petco and PetSmart as examples of stores that have chosen to favor humane adoptions versus retail sales. He stated that these were just two of many stores (both large and small) that have demonstrated how it is possible to have a successful pet-related business model, without supporting puppy mills.
He also noted that 35 cities within the state of California have already passed ordinances similar to or more stringent than the provisions contained in the Assembly bill being proposed for vote. San Diego County is home to eight of those cities — San Diego, Vista, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos and Solana Beach. In each instance where a city has passed an ordinance, affected pet stores were given a six-month grace period to adopt a humane business model, in order to remain open. Rather than comply, O’Donnell said the owners of those stores chose to close and move to cities without ordinances. He said that this bill would create one consistent statewide policy.
“Live animal sales make up just 10 percent of all pet-related business in the state of California,” Judie Mancuso, Social Compassion In Legislation Founder (and AB 485 sponsor) said in an address before an earlier Assembly committee. The remaining 90 percent of retail pet-related revenue is achieved from the sale of food, toys and supplies, along with grooming, boarding and miscellaneous needs. Yet San Diego area pet store owner David Salinas, who has been affected by puppy mill retail ban ordinances adopted in San Diego, Oceanside and San Marcos, has voiced strong opposition to the bill.
Salinas has stated that the proposed statewide ban would unfairly limit consumer choice. O’Donnell stressed that The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act would not limit consumer choice. He said that $300 million per year is spent to euthanize animals in California shelters. In addition to providing an opportunity for more shelter and rescue animals to be adopted into loving homes, he added that, “Californians will still be able to purchase animals directly from quality breeders, where they are able to see the conditions in which their prospective pet is bred and cared for.”
Though he has recently filed for bankruptcy, Salinas owns four stores, including two in San Diego County: National City Puppy in National City and the recently opened Broadway Puppies in Escondido. He has reportedly, along with the owner of Escondido Pets at Westfield North County Fair mall (whose sister store Carlsbad Pets was affected by the Carlsbad ordinance), hired a lobbying firm to represent the pet stores’ live animal sale interests, opposing AB 485 in Sacramento.
Speaking on the Assembly floor in support of AB 485 before the vote were Assembly members Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside; Monique Limon D-Santa Barbara; co-author Laura Friedman, D-Glendale; and co-author Matt Dababneh, D-Encino. They discussed the fact that reputable breeders never sell to pet stores and that every year more than 2.5 million healthy animals that could otherwise be someone’s pet are euthanized nationwide. In California shelters 500,000 are euthanized each year.
Chavez mentioned his own visits to the Humane Society and his shock at the number of shelter animals euthanized weekly, as well as the costs incurred by the city (and taxpayers) to pay for that. He also mentioned becoming educated about puppies being sold at pet stores and the puppy mills where they were coming from. “Members, this is not a partisan deal,” he said. “Sixty-eight percent of all families in the United States have a pet in the house. Pets are one of those things that cross over party lines. I strongly recommend you support this bill.”
The only person to speak in opposition, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, urged a “no” vote, on behalf of the pet store owners, although he stated that he was personally a proponent of pet adoption himself.
Local San Diego area animal advocates with Not One Animal Harmed (NOAH) said they worked tirelessly behind the scenes generating emails of support and making numerous phone calls in preparation for the Assembly floor vote. NOAH co-founders Andrea Cunningham and Leslie Davies, joined by fellow advocates Jim Kilby and Karen Gregory-Clayton, also met with staff in three Assembly districts, including Chavez, Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido; and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who each cast “yes” votes on the Assembly floor.
Davies traveled to Sacramento early last week to continue those efforts. “We are thrilled with the result and look forward to the next step,” she said. “We need this policy statewide.”
Cunningham echoed those sentiments. “We couldn’t be happier, but we also know it’s not over yet,” she said. “There is still much work to be done before this one goes into the history books.” And history making it will be. Once the Senate hurdles are cleared, AB 485 will move on to the governor’s desk where if signed, will make California the first state in the country to have enacted such legislation into law.