By Mina Corpuz
Boston University Statehouse Program
BOSTON — New restrictions on the commercial sale of dogs and cats under consideration by the Massachusetts Legislature are designed to improve animal welfare and consumer protection.
Several bills call for banning commercial dog and cat sales, prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats less than eight weeks old and requiring pet stores to work with licensed breeders that have not violated the Animal Welfare Act.
State Rep. Colleen Garry said she supports the legislation because it would provide more oversight for stores and breeders.
“(People) absolutely love their pets and they are buying them because they want to have an animal in their life,” said Garry, a Dracut Democrat. “To just have someone breeding them and not caring for them is a real issue and just making money off of another living thing.”
Garry joined more than 50 legislators to co-sponsor bills filed by Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, that would help improve conditions for puppies and kittens and give owners options if they were not aware the animal they purchased was sick.
“As an animal lover, pet owner and occasional small scale breeder, I am deeply aware of the emotional challenges for families when a pet falls ill, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of young animals,” Spilka, the Senate Ways and Means Chair, said in a statement.
Reps. Jim Miceli, D-Wilmington, and James Arciero, D-Westford, and Senators Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, also co-sponsored the bills. They were not available for comment.
Mike Keiley manages adoptions at Nevins Farm in Methuen, which is one of three MSPCA adoption centers in the state.
In addition to horses, potbelly pigs and hissing cockroaches, the center often takes in pets purchased from stores or breeders, Kelley said.
“One of the most common issues that we see is that impulse purchase of a dog,” said Keiley, who has worked at Nevins Farm for more than 20 years.
Some people who pick up a puppy at the mall or buy one online and ship them in from out of state may not anticipate what is needed to take care of a dog.
“Your expectations may totally change over time as that dog grows,” he said. “I think people pay a lot of money for those animals and then it’s surprising to see that they don’t put the other resources in to have them be successful with their family.”
About 14 bills have been filed that aim to protect pets and improve conditions for them at stores or kennels.
Sen. Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, said he filed the bill to end cat and dog sales at pet stores after learning about puppy mills and seeing some animals “confined in Plexiglass containers” at a local pet store.
“It’s not the way to operate a business,” said O’Connor, who serves as a minority whip.
“We’re in the 21st century and there’s an overpopulation right now (of pets.) Let’s focus on that, focus on adoption, and focus on stopping the process, including at commercial pet shops, of puppy mill breeding going on in the country.”
O’Connor’s bill would affect nine stores across the state, including Just Pups in Tyngsboro, whose owner was charged with animal cruelty for selling a sick Yorkie puppy last year.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said the case has been disposed. A call to Just Pups led to a disconnected number.
The largest of the stores, Pet Express, has three stores that sell nearly 60 breeds of puppies in Eastern Massachusetts
Breeders as well as pet stores that work with animals for adoption would be exempt.
O’Connor’s bill has garnered 20 co-sponsors, including Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster. She was not did not respond to requests for comment.
The Pet Industry Advisory Council, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Virginia, does not support the legislation, saying it would harm small businesses.
“Frequently independent, small business retailers that sell pets have designed their business model around the sale of the animals, the purchases that are made in conjunction with that sale, and creating a relationship that will encourage customers to continue to shop with them,” wrote Robert Likins, vice president of governmental affairs, in an email.
Banning dog and cat sales at pet stores could also harm veterinarians, groomers and pet food manufacturers, Likins said.
Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy at the MSPCA, said the nonprofit has worked with legislators including Spilka to put standards in place and reduce the number of sick animals.
The state has been a leader for animal protection, Holmquist said, and will continue its efforts.
“Massachusetts does have strong animal protection laws,” she said, “but from answering my phone and talking to people and learning from different departments here what is happening in the state, that is certainly clear there is a lot more work to be done.”