There was standing-room-only at San Diego’s City Hall Wednesday for a hearing on new pet store regulations aimed keeping puppy mill animals off the retail market.
It's an emotional issue, and the pet store industry hopes to curb lawmaking with assurances that the vast majority of suppliers are responsible and well-regulated.
But the animal rescue and adoption community says the marketplace is overrun with "substandard", if not inhumane, practices.
The measure, which is now headed for consideration by the full City Council, would require pet retailers to get their puppies, kittens and rabbits from city or county animal shelters, human societies, and nonprofit rescue groups such as the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
"(With) these animals,” said the Woodward Center’s spokeswoman Jessica Gercke in an interview Wednesday, “we've already discovered all their wonderful traits and personalities. We know what home they're going to be happy in, and we're able to give that information to the pet stores. And that's going to be a win-win for the family and the pets."
At the moment, Gercke was cradling Mario, a 1-year-old Terrier blend she had brought from the Woodward Center to NBC 7’s downtown studio for a feature interview on the mid-day news.
All too many puppy-mill breeders, Gercke explained, “breed these little puppies and send them out, and nobody knows much about the animal.”
But local pet shop owners say the puppy mill market will hardly feel the impact of the ordinance.
They say the measure will hurt regulated operations with properly registered and cared-for animals -- denying pet buyers a choice.
"If you take that way, you're going to open up a black market,” said David Salinas, CEO of San Diego Puppies, Inc., before Wednesday’s hearing of the City Council’s Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee. "The demand for purebred baby puppies will always be there. So you're going to open up potential puppy mills selling on-line."
One of the committee members is especially vocal in backing the ordinance.
“There’s a lot of inbreeding going on, and the conditions are deplorable, really – really inhumane,” says Councilwoman Lori Zapf. “They have a lot of health problems.”
Zapf referred specifically to a hand-me-down, puppy-mill Pomeranian named Farrah, who belongs to Zapf’s communications adviser Alex Bell.
They mentioned Farrah’s bad eyesight, legs and teeth – along with a tail that was badly bobbed in her early puppyhood.
"There are reputable breeders here in San Diego,” Zapf said. “And people can go to the Humane Society. They know who they are for the type of breed that people want."
The Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee voted to approved the ordinance on a 4-0 vote.
The measure is expected to come before the full Council in June or July.
Similar measures have been adopted in Los Angeles and a number of other Southern California cities including Chula Vista.