California Just Became First State to Ban 'Puppy Mill' Sales

 (David Baileys)

A radical change is coming to California's pet industry. On Friday, the state became the first requiring pet stores to sell animals from shelter and rescue centers.

Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 485, which says dogs, cats and rabbits sold in California can't come from large commercial breeding facilities. These operations, dubbed "puppy mills" and "kitten factories," are often unsafe and inhumane, according to activists.

"Puppy mill" owners over-breed females in order to provide a steady and inexpensive supply of puppies to pet stores, says Brandy Kuentzel from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Diseases, mass breeding and inbreeding that lead to genetic defects and behavioral problems are also common.

Though California has fewer 'puppy mills' than other states, according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Senior Director of State Legislation Susan Riggs, store owners still buy puppy mills from other states.  Puppy mill pets raised in the Midwest often end up in California, Riggs says.

The Puppy Mill Project, a non-profit animal rights group, says more than two million puppies are bred in mills each year. Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills and pet stores are the main point of sale for puppy mills, helping the operations stay in business, according to the Puppy Mill Project.

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Riggs says the new law will stop the flow of out-of-state pets into California outlets.

"Research and investigations time and time again have demonstrated that the source of those animals are from out-of-state puppy mill breeders," says Riggs.

But it's not just dogs and cats that will benefit.

San Francisco SPCA volunteer Kat Soong walks a pit bull mix around the Mission neighborhood. (SF SPCA)

“This is a super game changer for the rabbit industry,” says  Kuentzel. “They’re animals that are often over-looked.”

Kuentzel says customers buy the pets without knowing how to care for them or how much they'll cost.

“So a lot of people decide they don’t want them and they end up in shelters; it can be really hard to re-home them."

Jade Lehmkuhl has bunnies at her Sacramento store, Incredible Pets.  She'll have to stop selling them, but says she doesn't mind.

"When you look at the big picture, it ’s the right thing to do," says Lehmkuhl. "There are too many homeless rabbits, there are too many homeless animals in general for people to just be going out and buying baby animals."

Before the law went into place, 36 jurisdictions including San Francisco banned the sale of animals from "puppy mills." The legislation expands the rule statewide.

Bill opponents, including the American Kennel Club, say the ban will reduce access to new pets from professionally licensed breeders. But the ban only applies to stores. Individuals will still be able to buy direct from breeders or buy pets online.

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The new law takes effect in 2019 and violators will receive a $500 fine.

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