Council hears feedback on proposed pet legislationWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Discourse was passionate but civil at a Nov. 19 committee meeting during which Toledo City Council members heard for nearly two hours from supporters and skeptics of proposed legislation that would regulate the sale of dogs and cats in Toledo.
The ordinance, co-sponsored by Council president Paula Hicks-Hudson and Council member Rob Ludeman, would prohibit the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops, retail businesses and commercial establishments unless the animals are obtained from a legitimate animal shelter, animal control agency, humane society, nonprofit rescue organization and the animals are spayed or neutered.
The intent is to prevent the sale of animals from substandard breeding facilities commonly referred to as “puppy mills” or “kitten factories.”
Passage of the legislation would directly affect The Family Puppy, a pet shop that opened at Westfield Shopping Center on Oct. 18. The Michigan-based business buys puppies from Amish breeders in northern Indiana and sells them in its six locations: five in Southeast Michigan and one in Toledo. It also offers an adoption program, which serves mainly kittens. Owners John and Debbie Stottele said they would close the Toledo store if the legislation is passed.
About 25 supporters of the legislation attended the meeting wearing stickers that read “Boycott The Family Puppy.”
Susan Robinson of Woodville, who has participated in regular protests held outside the Toledo shop, said she owns two dogs rescued from Amish puppy mills.
“The places they came from are horrific and they will have lifelong consequences because of that,” Robinson said. “I know that some puppy mills are better than others, but that is like saying some forms of cancer are better than others. We would like them all to go away.”
Jaleen Tocco of the Ohio Coalition for Dogs said puppy mills exist because they are lucrative.
“The only way to stop puppy mills is to cut off the demand in the market,” Tocco said.
Mary Stulpin of Curtice said she has five dogs rescued from puppy mills.
“They’re the lucky ones,” Stulpin said. “Many of these animals never get this opportunity. I ask you to think about the horrible conditions of the dogs who are left behind.”
The Stotteles insist they carefully screen the breeders they buy from.
“We have developed a great partnership with our breeders and know them personally,” John wrote in a letter to City Council. “We have been in their kennels and homes and continue to strive to provide our client families the very best puppy: happy, healthy, well socialized, choice. We are continually improving our breeders including the physical and social wellbeing of the parent dogs. We have been matching puppies and families for more than 15 years while maintaining an A+ BBB Rating.”
“Many times we’ve said we’re not like other pet stores and we feel we’re not,” Debbie told Council members on Nov. 19. “We do not feel that our puppies are the problem.”
John said he is in agreement with Council members and the activists who want to eradicate puppy mills, which he prefers to call “substandard breeders.”
“We need to clamp down on bad breeders — and we’re in that fight,” John said. “The state wants to stop bad breeders, the federal government wants to stop bad breeders, we want to stop bad breeders. But what you’re proposing will not do that.”
Stottele said only about 4 percent of dogs in the U.S. are purchased through pet stores. The rest come from private sales, Internet sales and shelters, which are largely unregulated.
“Google all day long ‘Puppies for sale in Ohio’ and you’ll find hundreds of Internet sellers and there is no regulation at all,” John said. “Look at what you’re doing. Don’t trade a highly regulated industry for a nonregulated industry.”
The legislation was drafted after Hicks-Hudson and Ludeman were approached by Jean Keating of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates and others.
“We have made tremendous strides, not just the city of Toledo but Lucas County as a whole, moving forward and becoming a more humane community,” Keating said.
Keating and Pam Sordyl of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan said The Family Puppy’s three largest suppliers are puppy mills.
“The Family Puppy is neither here nor there to me; I have no issue with the store itself. My issue is with puppy mill dogs,” Keating said. “[Through USDA records], we basically proved that yes, he does buy from those breeders and yes those breeders are all USDA inspected and yes those breeders all have violations almost every single year.”
The Stotteles said they break ties with breeders who are found to have egregious or repeat direct violations or do not fulfill The Family Puppy’s strict breeder requirements, which voluntarily exceed those required by the USDA.
Gail Dick of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners told Council her group feels the legislation is “unfair and unnecessary.”
“The ordinance as we understand it was written specifically to drive this particular business establishment out of town,” Dick said. “It is unfair to assume and classify commercial breeders as unreputable because they sell animals to a retail establishment. It is also very disrespectful to portray all commercial breeders as neglectful [and] uncompassionate.”
Ron Johns, a University of Toledo student who unsuccessfully ran for City Council, said the legislation is bad for business.
“It’s really ironic that you guys are saying you want new business to come to Toledo. However, you’re passing legislation like this,” Johns said. “When you wonder why Toledo’s economy is lacking, I can tell you; it’s because of politicians passing legislation like this.”
Businessman Bill DeLaney, another unsuccessful City Council candidate, said people deserve a right to choose.
“We have a tendency sometimes to throw people out of this town, by whatever means,” Delaney said. “This man has a right to be here. He has paid his fees, got his permit, done everything he’s supposed to do to set up his business. He has a right to be here and people have a right to choose what they want to do.”
Ludeman said he is sponsoring the ordinance because of Toledo’s “huge pet overpopulation problem.”
“The sale of dogs and cats (companion animals) contributes to the proliferation of homeless or unwanted animals that are often poorly treated and/or end up in the public animal shelters and humane societies and animal welfare rescue organizations,” the legislation reads.
“Prohibiting the unregulated sale of companion animals in pet shops, retail businesses, or other commercial establishments may lower the sale of dogs and cats from inhumane ‘puppy mills’ and ‘kitten factories,’ and may lower the shelter animal euthanasia rate, and lead to a greater adoption rate of shelter animals,” the legislation reads.
Steve Serchuk, who has served on the boards of the Toledo Area Humane Society, Lucas County Dog Warden Citizens Advisory Council and Humane Ohio, said his biggest concern was that The Family Puppy doesn’t spay or neuter it’s puppies.
“I’m concerned this business is going to create negative effects by putting all these extra animals that are not spayed or neutered in our community,” Sorchuk said. “Because those animals are going to have more offspring and ultimately those offspring is going to fall to the nonprofits or the tax sponsored dog warden.”
John Dinan, former director of the Toledo Area Humane Society, also spoke in support of the legislation.
“The proliferation and sale of dogs from inhumane sources — that’s what this is really all about,” Dinan said. “Reputable breeders do not sell dogs through the pet shops. That’s just the way it is.”
The bill’s language currently would make the retail sale of such an animal a class 1 misdemeanor. There was some talk of that being too steep, but Dinan said he disagreed.
“Since this is regulating a revenue generating business, if the penalties are not stiff enough then it just becomes a cost of doing business,” Dinan said.
Councilman Mike Craig said he thinks the legislation is “a terrible idea.”
“If we want to ban sales then let’s just say we’re banning retail sales,” Craig said. “Don’t couch this as we’re trying to police something because we’re not. We’re trying to ban retail sales of pets in Toledo.”
Councilman Tom Waniewski also seemed skeptical.
“I’ve heard a lot of attacks on puppy mills when the legislation is an attack on The Family Puppy,” Waniewski said. “That’s what we have to weigh here: Are they getting them from a good puppy mill or a bad puppy mill?
“That’s what I’m trying to distinguish here,” he added. “I think there’s still some more to be done with this ordinance.”
Council members Shaun Enright, Steve Steel and Lindsay Webb were not present for the meeting, which met as a committee of the whole.