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In 2003, the City of West Hollywood became the first municipality in the country to ban cat declawing, a high-profile move that prompted a lawsuit from the California Veterinary Medical Association, a subsequent state law preventing other cities from passing similar bans, and a number of other municipalities — including Los Angeles — racing to follow West Hollywood’s lead before the new state law took effect at the start of this year.
This week, West Hollywood positioned itself at the forefront of another animal rights campaign, when the city council unanimously passed an ordinance to ban the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores. The ordinance, which was drafted in concert with several animal rights groups, is designed to “eliminate the demand” for animals bred in so-called “puppy mills” and “kitten factories”, where young cats and dogs endure harsh conditions. West Hollywood now becomes the second California city to ban the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores, after South Lake Tahoe.
If approved from the consent calendar at the next city council meeting, the ban will take effect on March 17. Animal rescue shelters will still be allowed to sell dogs and cats, as will retailers who breed their animals on site. Existing pet stores, meanwhile, will be allowed to continue selling dogs and cats until September 17.
“West Hollywood has been very involved in establishing progressive policies related to animal welfare for years,” said City Councilmember Jeffrey Prang, who sponsored the legislation. “Puppy mills are inherently unhealthy and cruel, and there’s really no credible way for the government to regulate the welfare of animals coming from puppy mills. There’s also no way for pet stores to ensure the sources of their pets are certifiably humane without huge cost and effort. Reputable breeders will not even sell to pet stores. Therefore, selling dogs and cats in pet stores is a roll of the dice.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, spoke at the West Hollywood City Council meeting in support of the ban.
“I think that any problem as widespread as puppy mills needs to be addressed from a variety of directions,” Pacelle said. “We are working very hard with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen oversight of puppy mills. But what you’ve seen here in West Hollywood is a big move to address the problem of pet stores providing sales opportunities for puppy mills, and cut it off at the local level.”
In addition to helping combat puppy mills, Pacelle also said that the ban on dog sales at pet stores could help solve the problem of animal overpopulation in a country where 3.7 million dogs are euthanized annually, by reducing the flow of animals into the market and encouraging people to adopt pets from shelters.
The West Hollywood City Council first became aware of the issue of pet stores selling dogs raised in puppy mills last year, when the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) came to the city council with evidence linking Elite Animals, a local pet store, with a puppy mill in Minnesota.
Carole Davis, west coast director of CAPS, said her organization invited Elite Animals to come to the meeting with the city council.
“When we showed them (the owners of Elite Animals) the evidence, they looked genuinely shocked,” Davis said. “We didn’t want to protest until we were sure they knew what they were doing. But after they (the owners) saw the evidence, they didn’t budge, and wouldn’t convert to a humane business model.”
Companion Animals Protection Society protested outside Elite Animals on Santa Monica Boulevard for more than five months, one of the organization’s longest protests, Davis said. Elite Animals did not return multiple calls for comment.
“This isn’t just an animal rights issue, it’s also a consumer protection issue,” Davis said. “So one of the things we do when we’re protesting is we educate consumers at the door. We talk to them outside the store and make sure they know where these puppies are coming from.”
Eventually Elite Animals, the only pet store in West Hollywood to sell dogs and cats, stopped selling animals, which makes the ban on selling cats and dogs in the city a largely symbolic gesture.
At Pointsettia Park on Tuesday afternoon, all the dog owners present had already adopted their animals from rescue shelters. Malika Chatterji got her three-year-old dog from a Dogs Without Borders shelter. “There are so many dogs in need of adoption,” Chatterji said. “I wanted to give a home to at least one of them.”
Still, Prang hopes the measure can serve as a model for other communities, as the ban on cat declawing did.
“In local government, when it comes to developing policies, someone has to be first,” Prang said. “The ban on cat declawing undoubtedly had a huge impact, and lots of other cities jumped on board and adopted similar ordinances. West Hollywood feels strongly about animal welfare issues, and we’ve been first on a number of other issues as well. Leaders in the animal welfare community continue to bring us ideas, and we’ll continue to support those that make sense. Clearly we’re not done, there’s still more work to do.”
Not all West Hollywood residents appreciate the city’s ban on the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores. Andrew G., a local dog owner, said the ban goes a step too far.
“Although I understand the interests in fighting puppy mills and encouraging shelter adoptions, there are some wonderful and unique aspects of being a purebred dog owner,” he said. “Many pet stores only have puppies from caring, responsible breeders, and it seems excessive to implement a flat-out ban. West Hollywood certainly isn’t prohibiting artificial insemination and surrogacy just because there are thousands of orphans in need of loving parents.”
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