PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Rhode Island's State Veterinarian believes a bill banning the sale of non-shelter dogs and cats at local pet shops will not work as it is intended.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Serpa, would prohibit pet shops from selling cats and dogs that were not bought from an animal shelter, pound or rescue facility.
Serpa said the bill is as much a consumer protection bill as it is a human bill. She says it will help ensure people are buying healthy dogs when they walk into a pet store.
Serpa and animal advocates also hope it will cut down on the number of dogs being bought from "puppy mills," which occur when large-scale dog breeders keep their dogs in deplorable conditions. The House approved the bill Tuesday night.
But State Veterinarian Scott Marshall is not convinced. He sent a statement to Eyewitness News, saying he doesn't think the bill will be as effective as everyone hopes:
"This law will not have the effect of improving the lives of animals in the puppy mills, those puppy mills will simply continue their practices of breeding animals in substandard conditions and selling them to rescues, instead of pet shops. In fact, it is arguable that their profit margin can increase because the rescues operate with lower overhead than a brick and mortar pet shop......I want to be crystal clear. I don’t want to paint all rescues as bad, or all pet shops as good. There are good and bad in both. This bill is not going to solve the issue of substandard care because all it is going to do is shift those same dogs into “retail rescue.” In fact, one pet shop has already commented that if this law passes they are going to set up a “straw” rescue so they can still use the same breeders.
As long as people want puppies, people are going to breed puppies to sell. It isn’t a matter of controlling the supply, it is a matter of controlling the demand. Could make the analogy that attempting to control supply during “prohibition” or the “war on drugs” wasn’t effective because the demand persisted. Peoples’ demand for puppies will need to change as will better ability to enforce existing regulations for these breeders as the most effective way forward to improve the welfare of these animals. I also want to be clear that I appreciate the sponsor’s desire to improve these animals’ welfare, just that this bill will fail to do so."
The owners of The Perfect Puppy in West Warwick believe it will hurt their business, and also their customers, saying the law will restrict potential dog owners' options.
Carlos Munoz, the general manager of The Perfect Puppy, sent a statement to Eyewitness News about the proposed bill:
"I feel this bill is very biased and extreme. Its supporters claim that it will stop pet stores from using puppy mills but in reality it prevents pet stores from using any breeder. Real puppy mills sell on the internet directly to customers where they won't have to provide a paper trail, not to local pet stores who, by law, have to provide their breeders' information."
"Furthermore, it takes away Rhode Islander's right to choose where to get their family pet," he continued. "Though we believe rescuing an animal is a good deed it is not for everyone. We are willing to compromise, but this law is fueled by a few extremist, and a special interest group who want to take away Rhode Island consumers decision making ability."
Munoz insists their dogs only come from reputable breeders.
There is a similar bill pending in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Archambault. The House version of the bill has not yet been scheduled for Senate consideration.
Rhode Island Defender of Animals released a statement in response to Marshall, saying he is "ignoring the facts:"
"We have stores in Rhode Island like PETCO, PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, and Rumford Pet stores that do a tremendous business without having to sell puppies from puppy mills.
These successful stores allow animal organizations and municipal animal shelters to have adoption events. Those events bring in many new customers for these stores. So it’s a win-win situation for both the stores and the dogs and cats that need homes."
"Instead, he makes erroneous claims that rescue shelters are increasingly using the same large-scale, commercial breeders as pet stores. I don’t know of any shelter or animal organization that is using commercial breeders to bring dogs into this state. He claims that pet stores are better regulated than rescue organizations.
If pet stores were properly inspected, we would not have all these sick puppies being purchased there.
What proof has he offered that people are adopting sick puppies from rescue organizations?
Based on testimony at local town and city councils, there is plenty of proof that sick puppies have been purchased from local pet stores."
"It’s unfortunate that we have a state veterinarian, who appears to be hell bent on fighting numerous animal legislation every year at the state house.
He is forever trying to regulate animal rescue groups in this state yet does not stay on top of the pet store businesses.
He has torpedoed legislation before and is attempting to do the same with this bill. As far as what his job description should entail, he is way off the grid."
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