Legislation would restrict dog, cat sales in ToledoWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Puppy mills” are at the center of a debate over legislation Toledo City Council is weighing that would strictly regulate the sale of dogs and cats in Toledo.
The controversial ordinance, co-sponsored by Council president Paula Hicks-Hudson and Councilman 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 or 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.” But opponents of the legislation argue the proposed law unfairly targets business — and one business in particular.
John and Debbie Stottele, owners of The Family Puppy, a pet shop that opened at Westfield Franklin Park on Oct. 18, said they would close the store if Council passes the ordinance. The Toledo shop employs seven people, including two full-time employees.
The Michigan-based business also has five locations in southeast Michigan. It buys puppies from about 20 Amish breeders in northern Indiana. Puppies are typically sold at between 8-12 weeks of age.
John said he stands with Council members and activists who want to eradicate puppy mills, although he prefers the term “substandard breeders.”
“We need to clamp down on bad breeders — and we’re in that fight,” John told Council members on Nov. 19 during a committee meeting at which the group listened for nearly two hours to supporters and skeptics of the proposed legislations. “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.”
“We do not feel that our puppies are the problem,” Debbie added.
John 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, all of which are largely unregulated.
“If pet stores only sell 4 percent, where do the other 96 percent come from and is the pet store really the problem?” John asked. “We all want to get rid of bad breeders, but this is going about it wrong. What we need to do is what the state is trying to do — regulate large-scale breeders and give them restrictions and guidelines. Ohio is writing that as we speak. The federal government has had it since 1966. Look at what you’re doing. Don’t trade a highly regulated industry for a nonregulated industry.”
Discourse was passionate but civil at the Nov. 19 meeting. About 25 supporters of the legislation attended, wearing stickers that read “Boycott The Family Puppy.”
Susan Robinson of Woodville, who has participated in regular protests held outside the mall, 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.”
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.”
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.
Pam Sordyl of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan and Jean Keating of the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates, who are spearheading the protest, said The Family Puppy’s three largest suppliers are puppy mills.
“[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,” Keating said.
The Stotteles insist they carefully screen their breeders and break ties with those found to be in serious violation.
“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 well-being of the parent dogs.”
The USDA inspects breeding facilities using regulations set forth by the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. New federal legislation that took effect Nov. 18 adds regulation to breeders who sell sight-unseen over the Internet. Ohio is currently working on its own high-volume breeder legislation.
The USDA inspects licensed breeder facilities once a year. Direct violations involve the health and well-being of an animal, while indirect violations are often maintenance issues, John said.
Pet shops are not required to buy from USDA and American Kennel Club licensed breeders; however, the Stotteles said they choose to. They also said their breeder requirements voluntarily exceed USDA’s requirements.
“Some pet stores do buy from unlicensed breeders and they are OK with that. I am not,” John said.
John said of the 22 primary breeders he’s used in the past three years, three have been cited for direct violations. He said he no longer buys from a breeder who was cited for sick and overheated puppies, but decided to continue buying from the other two after talking with them and determining their issues to be resolved. One was cited for tartar buildup on animals’ teeth and the other was cited for allowing an unlicensed veterinarian to perform “cherry eye” surgery on a dog, which John said was unharmed.
The Stotteles’ breeders were also cited for 32 indirect violations — 14 of them for no one being at home when an inspector came by unannounced, John said.
“I have no breeders right now that have had a direct violation in the past year. That’s the one I’m most concerned with,” John said. “Am I concerned with indirect violations? Yes I am. If a guy had repeat indirect violations over and over, I’d cut him off, but if he has direct violations I’m going to take a serious look because that breeder is not taking care of his dog.”
John said he can offer families 35 years of expertise in choosing a dog.
John said he can offer families 35 years of expertise in choosing a dog. He started cleaning kennels for a pet store in college and later became the chain’s district manager for Michigan. In 1998, the company’s owner was diagnosed with cancer and decided to close his shops. The Stotteles renegotiated leases for three of them.
“I don’t know how many dogs families buy in their lifetime. Three, four, five? I’ve bought thousands of them, so I know how to pick a breeder,” John said. “If you’re not experienced in it, you can get snowed in a heartbeat.”
But Robinson and others are not convinced.
“The people of Northwest Ohio do not need to be duped into thinking they are buying quality puppies that have been carefully bred just because someone says they are,” she said.
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,” it continues.
Ludeman — who is a Toledo Animal Shelter board member and former member of the Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee — said he feels strongly the legislation is needed.
“I just have a big philosophical issue with retail puppy stores like that. It’s just something I can’t agree with,” Ludeman said. “You’ve just got to picture an operation of 50 to 100 dogs. I don’t know how you can call it anything other than a puppy mill.”
City Council will likely address the ordinance at its next meeting Nov. 26. Ludeman said he expects several members to propose amendments.
Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins said he is concerned about unintended consequences.
“I haven’t made my mind up as to where I am on the legislation,” Collins said. “But I would hope the author of the legislation would take the testimony that was given last night (Nov. 19), in particular the concerns, and modify the language to the extent that it isn’t overly aggressive against an industry, where good actors are treated the same as bad actors.”
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 during the meeting. “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.”
“If you make people operate in a way that there is no possible way they can make money, that is a ban,” Craig later added. “If you want to say that to sell cigarettes in the city of Toledo, it’s 150 bucks a pack, I don’t care what you say, that’s a ban on sales. Just call it what it is.
“When other people are talking or I’m talking, I like to look at the faces of the people listening and see what their reactions are. When I said it was a ban, I looked at the proponents and six or seven of them were shaking their heads yes, so they know perfectly well what they are doing.”
Craig said he’d like to see Council adopt legislation that regulates but doesn’t ban.
“They are losing an opportunity to encourage business but hold them to a higher standard,” Craig said.
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. I think there’s still some more to be done with this ordinance.”
Ron Johns, a University of Toledo student who unsuccessfully ran for City Council, said antibusiness legislation hinders Toledo’s economy.
“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 disagrees that the legislation is anti-business.
“This a whole different type of animal — excuse the pun — than other types of businesses in Toledo that want to come and start up,” Ludeman said.
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.”
John said he appreciated how civil the discourse was, but was surprised the animal activists didn’t bring up any specific accusations against his business, despite providing Council members with a handout detailing past USDA breeder violations.
“There was institutional accusations about puppy mills, but Jean didn’t really talk [about my business],” John said. “Why wouldn’t she talk about those three [breeders with violations] she sent to City Council? That really put a question in my mind of what’s up. Why wouldn’t she want that on the record? I was prepared to answer those questions. She’s investigated me enough and doesn’t really have any dirt on me except the three direct violations, because we do what we do and we’re very serious about it.”
Steve Serchuk, former board member with 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 its puppies.
“Those animals are going to have more offspring and ultimately those offspring are going to fall to the nonprofits or the tax-sponsored dog warden,” Serchuk said.
John Dinon, Ohio director of outreach and engagement with The Humane Society of the United States, also spoke in support of the legislation.
“Reputable breeders do not sell dogs through the pet shops,” Dinon said. “That’s just the way it is.”
The bill’s current language would make the retail sale of a companion animal a first-class misdemeanor. There was some talk of that being too steep, but Dinon, who is a former director of the Toledo Area Humane Society, 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,” Dinon said.
The Stotteles only sell breeds that have track records of being good family pets and said they strive to help customers succeed. With each sale, they include My Pet Trainer, a 15-month e-course training program, as well as a one-year subscription to on-call behaviorists at the Good Dog Hotline, a 60-day health care plan and a microchip to reunite lost or stolen dogs with their owners.
John said he feels the criticism that pet shops encourage “impulse buys” is unfounded.
“Most people we see have been thinking about getting a dog for a long time. They’ve been looking in the paper, they’ve been talking; they’ve thought about it for days, sometimes months, sometimes years,” said John, who added that the average cost of a puppy is $850.
“When you get a dog from a neighbor or family member, that’s more of an impulse buy. But when you have to plop down $1,000, that’s something you have to think about,” he said.
The Stotteles said paperwork is available for every puppy, including a pedigree, interstate vet certificate, vaccination records, breeder inspection reports and more.
“Any dog that’s out there in the kennel, this is available to you to come in and look at,” John said. “I’m not hiding anything. We’re trying to be as transparent as we possibly can.”
However, during her remarks to Council on Nov. 19, Robinson said she requested records on a puppy during a recent visit to the Toledo shop and was told they could not be found.
The Family Puppy also offers an adoption program. Since 1998, staff have spayed, neutered and placed more than 11,000 puppies and kittens, mainly kittens, the Stotteles said.
“We want shelter animals to get adopted,” Debbie said, noting that each store features a banner that reads “Have you visited your shelter first?” “It’s just that it’s not for everyone.”
John said he wouldn’t be able to run a business selling animals from shelters, as the city proposes.
“There have been stores that have done that and they can’t pay the bills,” he said. “The reality is, as Americans, as Toledo citizens, we have the right to decide if we want to buy a pure-bred dog, a purpose-bred dog. We have the right to do that in America. For them to say that a pet store can only sell from shelters really limits what we can do.
“Some of the things in the proposal says breeders that sell to pet stores might not have exercise, might not have vet oversight, it might help us to adopt more dogs out of shelters and it might help shut down bad breeders,” John said. “It won’t. It’s not going to do what they want it to do. All its going to do is put me out of business.”
Tags: American Kennel Club, Businessman Bill Delaney, Councilman Mike Craig, Councilman Tom Waniewski, Good Dog Hotline, Humane Ohio, Humane Society of the United States, John Dinon, kitten farms, Lucas County Dog Warden Advisory Committee, Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins, Michigan, Ohio Association of Animal Owners, Ohio Coalition for Dogs, puppy mills, Rob Ludeman, The Family Puppy, Toledo Animal Shelter, Toledo City Council, University of Toledo, USDA, Westfield Franklin Park, Woodville