Trapped in cages filled with feces, dirt and grime. Forced to stand in wastewater. Crammed into cages too small to turn around in. Routinely exposed to cold and hot temperatures without shelter or shade. Plagued with serious illnesses and injuries and yet denied veterinary care. Shipped from Missouri to Florida in filthy cages. That is no life for a dog.
Yet, public records show that Manatee County pet stores source puppies from facilities that subject dogs to the conditions described above. Two of the county’s three local puppy-selling pet stores recently purchased dogs from an Iowa puppy mill after it was the subject of 18 pages worth of animal welfare citations issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On Aug. 10, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners will vote on an ordinance to prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. This single commonsense measure would put an end to the puppy mill-to-pet store pipeline that causes so much animal misery, and protect Florida consumers from misleading sales tactics, sick puppies and opportunistic financing at exorbitant interest rates.
Manatee County prides itself on being pro-business, and this ordinance is perfectly aligned with that objective. The retail pet industry market is dominated by the sale of products and services, not the sale of puppies, and it is on an explosive trajectory. Last year, Americans spent $103 billion on their pets and experts predict the market will continue to grow.
The nation’s most successful pet stores, like countless small businesses and mom and pop shops, succeed by listening to what their customers want. Many stores have added high quality pet food, delivery, grooming, boarding, training or pop-up veterinary clinics and adoption events, among other innovations.
These stores understand what the outliers do not: animal cruelty and consumer deception do not make for good business. Kindness and initiative do, and the market rewards them.
The stores that sell puppy mill dogs rely on old assumptions, specifically that lack of transparency about where pet store puppies come from and the severity of their health conditions are okay, and that dissatisfied customers can simply return or exchange the animals involved. Try telling that to the parents of children who have quickly come to love their new pet as a member of the family.
The consumer protection dimension of this issue is evident in the number of complaints received by humane organizations, along with those registered at online consumer review sites. The Better Business Bureau has an alert on one of the local pet stores for “a pattern of complaints concerning the health conditions of animals sold,” and the Florida attorney general has filed suit against a Florida pet store for selling sick puppies and misleading consumers. These are the signs of a deeply flawed business model and one that the free market should not reward.
Luckily, there is a wide network of responsible breeders in the Manatee County area, along with many shelters and rescues, including breed-specific rescues for those with a certain dog in mind. It is easy enough to find a popular purebred or designer breed puppy from one of these sources, so there is no need to frequent a pet store that fuels the puppy mill trade.
When it approves the ordinance at hand, Manatee County will join the more than 80 localities across Florida, including neighboring Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, that have stood up for animals, consumers and businesses by reshaping the market for pets in a manner consistent with good ethics and good business practice. Allowing pet stores to continue to sell puppies from cruel puppy mills, even as they deceive consumers, is simply not in line with the values of the county.
Kate MacFall is the Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States.