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Local pet store owners are suing the state of Maryland over a new law prohibiting the retail sale of puppies.
Animal rights advocates argue the law will cut off demand for dogs born in “puppy mills,” which breed pups in inhumane conditions. But pet store owners say their dogs come from USDA-approved breeders and that the ban will do little more than drive their businesses to bankruptcy.
So, what will the law really do?
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Karin Brulliard Reporter, The Washington Post
- Jeanea Thomson Owner, Just Puppies
- John Goodwin Senior Director, Humane Society of the United States' Stop Puppy Mills campaign
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Some Maryland pet owners are suing the state over a new law that will prohibit the retail sale of cats, dogs and rabbits. Lawmakers and advocates say the ban will reduce the demand for dogs born in so called puppy mills, breeding facilities that value profit over animal welfare. But those in the pet industry say such a law will do little more than drive small businesses into bankruptcy. Joining me in studio to discuss this is Jeanea Thomson. She owns Just Puppies, a pet store with locations in Rockville and Towson, Maryland. Jeanea Thomson, thank you for joining us.
JEANEA THOMSONThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJohn Goodwin is Senior Director of the Stop the Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society. John Goodwin, thank you for joining us.
JOHN GOODWINIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Karin Brulliard is Reporter for The Washington Post. Karin, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJeanea Thomson, this law is scheduled to take effect on January first 2020. What would it mean for you and your business Just Puppies?
THOMSONWell, I think ultimately it's going to put us out of business, which is unfortunate. We've been in Maryland for 20 years, and I've been with the company for 20 years. And I feel that in addition to putting us out of business it also will create consumers to not have protections as far as transparency, where their animals are coming from, the health of the animals as well as driving it to internet sales, dogs coming from foreign countries. So we're just really concerned that it really does nothing for stopping the so called puppy mills. But I really feel we also do need a change of narrative on what puppy mills means.
NNAMDIAnd we'll have that conversation hopefully during the next few minutes. This lawsuit against the State of Maryland was filed two weeks ago in U.S. District Court. Who are the plaintiffs?
THOMSONSo it does include myself, Just Puppies and two other stores in Columbia, Charm City and Today's Pets as well as breeders and brokers that will be out of business essentially as well by not being able to bring their products into Maryland essentially.
NNAMDIThis has already been signed by Governor Hogan. What are you hoping to accomplish here?
THOMSONWe're hoping to maintain the current laws that are in Maryland, which gives consumers protections. It also will give consumers the ability to make a decision with what is best for their family as far as where they acquire their animals from. So Just Puppies and other pet stores in Maryland have to be transparent on so many levels where their animals are coming from, the care that's provided. And so we're afraid that this is going to cause a decline in the welfare of animals and animals coming in to the State of Maryland from the same entities that they were coming in from, but unregulated.
NNAMDIJohn Goodwin, the Humane Society has been a big supporter of this legislation. Maryland is only the second state actually to enact an all-out ban on selling pets from commercial breeders. So what's the idea exactly? What will this legislation do?
GOODWINWell, let's be very clear that when the retail pet industry talks about regulated breeders, they're talking about mere survival standards at best. A USDA license breeder can keep a dog in cage for her entire life. That dog only has to be six inches longer than her body. Her paws never have to touch a blade of grass. She can stand on a coated wire floor the entire time. She can be breed every heat cycle until her body wears out. And the puppy mill owner can then kill her. That is what the USDA regulations allow, and those are the sorts of facilities that these pet stores are acquiring puppies from.
GOODWINThere is a lot of misinformation in this lawsuit. The word unregulated is thrown around a lot, ignoring statutes in Maryland that regulate animal shelters, ignoring that the people, who sell over the internet have to follow the same minimal standards as the breeders who supply pet stores. What this law does it helps close off the market to inhumane sources of puppies while also protecting Maryland families, because so many of these pet store puppies are sick, and are sold to unsuspecting families who then accumulate large veterinary bills.
NNAMDIJeanea, how do you choose your commercial breeders?
THOMSONWell, essentially we go directly to our breeders. I have visited every single one of my breeders myself. I think it's important to say that USDA -- and there was a report written up by Ed Sayres, who is the former president of the ASPCA, who was with them for 10 years, who later wrote that none of the raids that they ever did were on USDA breeders or on pets that were set to go to pet stores. So our breeders are chosen by us as well as there being the current law that dictates what kind of breeders we can buy from being that their licensed, inspected, regulated by not only the federal agencies, but also state agencies as well. So it's a combination of our own personal inspections as well as the inspections that are required at the stores to be maintained on our breeders for all of their inspection reports being available to the public.
NNAMDIKarin Brulliard, you've written about some of the trends we're seeing and how animal welfare is approached both at the federal and state level. What are the trends and where in the country are we seeing them?
BRULLIARDWell, so as has been mentioned already the USDA regulates larger dog and cat breeders. Those standards as John mentioned are quite minimal. And in the past couple of years under the Trump administration the enforcement of those laws has really changed. How this works is they inspect dog breeders, and they issue citations for, you know, problems, violations of the law. That has dropped off significantly in the past couple of years. Also the, you know, regular public access to the inspection reports online has decreased. So there's much less information available out there about how dog breeders are caring for their dogs if that's something dog buyers want to know about. And so states in some places have, you know, taken on an increasingly significant role in regulating dog breeders, but in other places do very little also.
NNAMDIHow effective do you think a ban on the retail sale of puppies could be?
BRULLIARDThat's a good question. I think there are lots of ways to look at that. One is that many people -- so there's been absolutely a sort of rise in adoption of shelter dogs and sort of a rise in the, you know, I would say in some ways the glorification of the idea of a rescue dog. That's a phrase that kind of didn't exist about, you know, a dozen years ago or so, but now is increasingly used. But that doesn't necessarily mean that there's been a precipitous drop off in the desire of people to own pure breed dogs. You know, a lot of people have big attachments to certain breeds. They have beliefs that certain breeds act a certain way even though research doesn't show that that's always the case. And so there are different ways you can get a pure breed dog. If you want to do that you can go to a breeder, which a lot of people do according to the sort of not wonderful data that's out there.
BRULLIARDAnd the far smaller number go to a pet store. So, you know, people are still I would think have access to pure breed dogs should they want them.
NNAMDIIs there a real danger that would be pet owners may be driven to less regulated markets if this law goes into effect?
BRULLIARDMaybe, I don't know. I think one thing that these laws try to address and I don't know how successful they are is the idea at least that people who want a certain breed -- or people who want a certain breed of dog are going to go to a breeder. They're thinking about it. They're going to go to a breeder, and these laws somewhat try to address the impulse buy. So this idea that some pet owners might be -- or people might be walking by, you know, the doggy in the window and say, oh, I really want that dog. And that that buyer is maybe going to be less responsible and that might lead to increase sort of abandonment and mistreatment. There's certainly been no, you know, solid data gathering on that.
NNAMDIHow can potential pet owners ensure that the animal that they're purchasing was not raised in inhumane conditions?
BRULLIARDWell, I think -- and John can speak to this and so could Jeanea probably. I think the most widely cited recommendation is to go see where -- go see the breeder. Go visit the breeder. See the place where you're buying the dog from. Anytime you're buying it from a second party, you know, you don't have the information that you might have if you see where the dog was born.
GOODWINYeah. I would agree with that. Meet the breeder. Meet the mother dog and see where the mother dog lives. Now when you buy a puppy in a pet store you're denied that opportunity. Sure, the pet store owner claims to have gone and visited the facility. Well, let's talk about some of those facilities that have supplied Maryland pet stores with puppies. There's one breeder who supplies Just Puppies. I was in your store on Saturday. I looked through the inspection reports that are available, who has 152 adult breeding dogs on his property right now. That's a factory farm. That's a puppy mill. That's a facility where the dogs are a livestock commodity. They can't provide individual care that's adequate for the physical and emotional needs of 152 dogs.
NNAMDIWant to back up for a minute, because I have to get to the telephones too. But because the term puppy mill gets thrown around a lot and naturally stirs up a lot of emotions for people. So first you, Jeanea, how do you define a puppy mill?
THOMSONMy definition of a puppy mill would be standards of the conditions that are in those facilities. Somebody who is unlicensed, unregulated, uninspected. Somebody who's going under the radar, which is mainly where breeder raids and so forth are coming from are from these unlicensed facilities. So I think the USDA is definitely doing their job. And maybe we are seeing less citations, because the breeders are making changes in a positive way.
GOODWINWell, could I ask a question? Would it be acceptable to keep a dog in a cage only seven inches longer than her body? Would a facility that does that not be considered a puppy mill?
THOMSONWell, in most states like Missouri they require there to be outdoor and indoor spaces available to the dogs with unfettered access to those areas. So to say that they're stuck in a cage only a certain size of their body is not accurate.
NNAMDII'm wondering John Goodwin, have you visited any of these inhumane dog breeding facilities.
GOODWINYes. I have.
NNAMDIWhat are they like?
GOODWINWell, often what you have -- when she describes indoor outdoor is a building that's the size of a little greenhouse that has double stacked cages where there's a cage on the inside and a cage on the outside. And a little doggy door that separates them. And the amount of space available is less than the closet in the worst apartment that I ever lived in. I mean, these are tiny tiny places. A facility with 152 dogs like one of the puppy mills that supplies Just Puppies with dogs simply cannot provide, you know, a good quarter acre of room for that many animals. They wouldn't have enough space.
NNAMDIHere is Kingston in Annapolis, Maryland. Kingston, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KINGSTONYes. Good afternoon, Kojo.
KINGSTONI'm just calling, because I worked a number of years in the pet trade and I'm not going to touch the dog, cat issue, as much as from what I'm understanding Maryland wants to ban the sale of rabbits as well.
KINGSTONWell, my thing is that when we worked even when we did sell kittens and rabbits we made sure that the people got all the necessary items to keep that pet happy. Around Easter time we made sure that they knew this is not just a holiday animal. It's a full time animal for the rest of its life. They got literature and if they didn't get the book, we had printed literature that went out with that pet. If they ban rabbits and a lot of my friends have pet rabbits, where are they going to turn to get their rabbits? They're going to get them either way because the Amish market sells them.
GOODWINWell, just to clarify, the Maryland law actually applies to just dogs and cats. So the California law did apply to rabbits, and pet stores shouldn't sell rabbits. Law enforcement went into a pet store in Fairfax, Virginia in April. And they found 31 dead rabbits in that store's freezer, because these animals were stressed out from the conditions that they were in. And it was just a horror story. And that sort of scene is all too common.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about a new law in Maryland that prohibits pet stores from selling puppies and kittens. We got an email from David who says, we have three cats in our home. Two of them were adopted from rescue organizations that were marketed at pet stores. The other was abandoned at a pet store and the store gave it us for no charge. We also have several outdoor cats, who are mostly all related and born at our home or on our block. With 90 million cats in the U.S. I think breeding should be limited, but not eliminated since there are rare breeds with small populations that need to continue in order to enable a diverse population of cats.
NNAMDIJohn, this law in Maryland will be one of the strictest in the country, but what about D.C. and Virginia? It's my understanding that it's legal to sell dogs at pet stores in both places. But no pet stores in D.C. choose to do that. What are the policies around the region?
GOODWINSo that's correct. Pennsylvania has about 40 puppy selling pet stores, though, their legislature is considering legislation similar to what Maryland has enacted. Their State Senate has 40 members and 29 of them have cosponsored that bill. So I think that it has a lot of good momentum. In Virginia, they have a law that's similar to what Maryland previously had, which is one that says that pet stores cannot source puppies from certain breeders with certain violations on their USDA inspection records. But unfortunately those sorts of laws were rendered unenforceable when the USDA started to redact all of the identifying information on the inspection reports that would help law enforcement authorities verify that people were following the law.
NNAMDIJeanea, you started your business Just Puppies 20 years ago. How has the pet industry changed during that time?
THOMSONI think a lot of changes have been made for us. I don't think any business is without growth and making improvements. So I think over the course of 20 years where it originally started with my husband and pets coming from his experience with his family breeding, I think it became more of a consumer focus. Focusing on the consumer, focusing on what the consumers are looking for, focusing on making sure that we match the dogs with the families. We do do interview processes in our stores with our clients to make sure that they are getting what's best suited for their family. So I think there's been a lot of changes and improvements on our end, on the breeder end and in the industry itself. So it's very difficult to see this possibly be taken away as an option for consumers.
NNAMDIHere's Marsha in Monrovia, Maryland with a personal story. Marsha, you're turn.
MARSHAYeah, I'm calling in the minute I heard Just Puppies was mentioned, because my husband and I are now the adopted parents of a dog that was originally purchased at Just Puppies. Within a week that the original owners had him, he was in a veterinary hospital for pneumonia. He came with a lot of health issues with him, as well as behavioral problems, probably because of poor socialization that he endured. Because he came -- it says right on his intake, he was born in Missouri. I'm sure at one of those infamous puppy mills.
MARSHAAnd he was brought to Just Puppies by a broker. These are people that go from puppy mill to puppy mill gathering dogs and bringing them up. I am sorry, but now my husband having brought this dog in -- we got him from a rescue association. And I do believe that if you're looking for a pure breed dog I'm sure most breeds have their own rescue. We got him from the Northern Virginia Sheltie Rescue. He was eventually relinquished to them, because of behavioral problems and also because of health issues.
NNAMDIDid you ever contact Just Puppies and have a discussion about this?
MARSHANo. You know why? The reason why is because we are like the fourth owner. I just happen to have -- I never really had any --
NNAMDIAllow me to have Jeanea Thomson respond about what happens in a case like that if indeed the individual, who bought the puppy does contact you.
THOMSONWell, one we don't work with brokers at our store. There are other pet stores in Maryland that do use brokers. We do not. The current law that protects consumers, which was what we were already doing for our business before the laws went into effect was offering the clients free vet care. And there are certain things as a puppy -- we are dealing with, you know, young animals that can be a potential just like a baby going to a daycare with certain things. And so we want to protect the consumers and make sure that if something like upper respiratory or any type of intestinal parasites or anything like that occur that that is going to be covered by Just Puppies and by the veterinarians.
THOMSONAs far as -- she did mention something about a sheltie rescue. Shelties are not a breed that we normally get into our stores at all. So I would be very interested to see the history of the particular puppy that she's referring to.
NNAMDIHow do you view adoption and rescue?
THOMSONI think it's a great avenue for a lot of families. I think everybody's main goal is animal welfare and we don't want puppy mills. We don't. But to use puppy mills as a term to identify anybody that's selling to a pet store and not considering the conditions of those animals and the care that is provided to those animals I think is a disservice to people, who really care about what they do.
NNAMDIKarin, what does it mean when a breeding operation is quote, unquote USDA licensed?
BRULLIARDWell, so the rules on who needs to be USDA licensed are somewhat complicated. So I won't get into them here. But generally if you have a certain, you know, above a certain number of breeding females and depending on how you're selling those you might require a USDA license. What that means is typically that they're subject to surprise inspections usually annually. Sometimes more often if they are found to be in violation of certain animal welfare regulations. So that is, you know, a certain level of oversight that smaller breeders don't necessarily have.
NNAMDIBut you did some reporting on USDA inspections earlier this year. What did you uncover?
BRULLIARDWell, there's been a real change in sort of the way USDA does oversight not just of dog breeders, but of lots of other entities that they license such includes zoos and research labs and other exhibitors, dealers, lots of animal businesses. What's happened is that at least on the surface of it USDA is enforcing the laws far less than they used to. They're writing up far fewer violations than they used to. I mean, 60 percent drop over two years. And they're also as I mentioned earlier making sort of information about these licensed facilities less available to the public. They argue that they've changed the way they enforce things, that they have adopted a more sort of educational approach with breeders or with zoos. And that this doesn't necessarily mean they're sort of shirking their responsibility to protect animals. But there's evidence to the contrary.
NNAMDIGot one call about Just Puppies. Here's another. Jacob in Maryland, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACOBHi there. I enjoy your show whenever I get to listen to it. You know, about three years ago to the day I bought a very nice chocolate lab from Just Puppies, and we got it very good. It was from a breeder in Missouri. They actually let me call the breeder and the dog has been very healthy. And I really have no complaints. But I will say that I would have been happy to get the ugliest neediest dog from a shelter. But my wife really wanted a looker, you know, so we ended up getting this beautiful dog. And it is very difficult to get dogs from shelters sometimes. If you try to get a dog of your choice that's not a pit bull in this area, it can be very very difficult.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Karin, how much do we know about how rescue organizations are regulated?
BRULLIARDWell, they're not regulated very much at all. And I think this is an important thing and, you know, an important point in this conversation, which is that as the sort of rescues in shelters have increasingly become an avenue for people to source dogs, the regulation of those has not sort of kept pace necessarily. And as the caller mentioned for people, who are really attached to a certain breed often you go to a shelter and you can't find that breed. I mean, the drop intake at shelters, the drop in euthanasia, the rise in adoption rates has meant that in many parts of the country, not all of them, there is sort of a very small selection of dogs. And certainly there aren't like golden retriever puppies at your local shelter. So a lot of people turn to breed specific rescues. And that's been very very helpful for lots of dogs who need homes.
NNAMDIAlso controversial. Kim Kavin a freelance journalist and author of "Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers" published an investigation last year. It found many rescue organizations have been sourcing their dogs from the very so called puppy mills they disparage. What was your reaction to that story?
BRULLIARDYeah. I was just about to mention that. So this was a report we published in The Washington Post. That right, exactly as you said. Found that many rescues that had been set up as rescues are in fact -- source, buy puppies at auctions. And these are sometimes in many cases puppies that the breeders wanted to get rid of for one reason or another. They're finished, you know, giving birth to puppies or the puppies for one reason or another aren't, you know, going to fetch as much on the market. These in some cases do not -- these rescues do not necessarily give the full story to adopters about how they're sourced. And, you know, some could argue that are giving money to breeders and keeping them in business.
NNAMDIIs there any legislation being put forward to regulate rescue groups that you know of?
BRULLIARDSo USDA, after that report, said that many of such rescues would require USDA licenses, because they're operating sort of essentially as brokers. There's little evidence that the USDA has begun to enforce that.
NNAMDIJohn Goodwin, do you feel regulation of rescue groups is also necessary?
GOODWINWe are the ones, who have lobbied and enacted regulation of various rescue groups. And it's also the Humane Society, the United States Animal Rescue Team that has gone and shut down some animal hoarders, who claim to be rescues. The pet industry like to use bad rescues as a talking point. Human Society of the United States actually gets out there and solves the problem. Now in regards to the so called rescues that were going and buying dogs at auctions, it was 87 groups over a period of nine years. That's far less than one percent of the rescues in this country. There is a problem though with fake rescues, which are set up by people in the commercial pet industry that are linked to puppy mills, and try to claim to be rescues to get around prohibitions on the sale of puppy mill dogs.
GOODWINWe pitched some information about these fake rescues to the Chicago Tribune. And that led to the Iowa attorney general filing a lawsuit against a major puppy broker. One who has supplied pet stores like those in Maryland in the past, because they were engaging in this sort of rescue scam. So I think that it's ironic that anyone in the commercial pet industry would talk about bad rescues when it's some of the major players in their industry, who have set up fake rescues to try and get around the law.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time, because no one publically will support puppy mills, but how do we move forward, Jeanea Thomson? Are laws like this one in Maryland the only or even the most effective way to shutdown inhumane breeding facilities?
THOMSONI think the current laws that we have in place is where we should start. It's definitely worked. We are governed by the attorney general and since 2012 there have only been four warranted complaints made to the attorney general about the pet stores in the State of Maryland. And all of those were corrected and no violations were made. So I think the current law that's in Maryland that will be striped totally if this ban goes into place is where we need to start.
NNAMDIWell, as I said the law is on the books. The lawsuit has be filed. We'll have to see what happens after this. Jeanea Thomson owns Just Puppies, a pet store with locations in Rockville and Towson, Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.
THOMSONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJohn Goodwin is Senior Director of the Stop the Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society. Thank you for joining us.
GOODWINThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Karin Brulliard is a Reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you for joining us.
BRULLIARDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk about the new creative office affairs office of the District of Columbia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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