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The legislature’s “puppy mill” task force may look to ban the sale of cats and dogs from commercial breeder,s but exempt Connecticut pet stores already selling them.

The panel plans to make policy recommendations to combat puppy mills — a term for commercial breeders where dogs are produced in high numbers and in inhumane conditions. Advocates contend that many of the animals sold in Connecticut pet shops were born at these commercial breeders.

One of several possible recommendations proposed during the group’s meeting Thursday would grandfather pre-existing pet shops but would prohibit new stores from selling commercially-bred cats and dogs. 

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Animal advocates on the panel who would like to pass an outright ban see the exemption as a compromise that gives their recommendation a better shot at passing the legislature. Amy Harrell, president of the Connecticut Alliance for Humane Pet Shops, said the legislature favors the status quo.

“Pet shops should stop selling commercially bred dogs and cats and instead humanely source puppies and kittens from rescue groups and municipal shelters,” she said. “Alternatively, we recognize that members of the General Assembly may favor legislation that allows current pet shop owners to maintain status quo.”

Sen. Bob Duff, a Norwalk Democrat who co-chairs the panel, included a similar proposal in his recommendations. Duff’s recommendation differed from Harrell’s in that his proposal would not see pet shops losing their exemptions if they chose to relocate.

But a representative of a pet store trade association who also serves on the task force did not see the exemption idea as an acceptable compromise. Charles Sewell, executive vice president of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, called the “grandfathering” recommendation a “de facto ban” that only delayed the impact.

“Frankly, that would just be a slow death for pet stores over time,” he said. “You would be eliminating the ability for pet stores to operate.”

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Sewell has been in a defensive position since the group started its work in September. The task force was formed as an alternative to legislation proposed last year by Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a Fairfield Republican who serves as the group’s co-chairwoman. Kupchick’s original bill would have banned the sale of commercially-bred dogs and cats and she’s maintained that position throughout the process.

Several of the group’s members have not been shy about stating they believe the welfare of animals is more important than the continued success of the state’s pet stores.

“The fact is, many of our members and a good portion of the public have utter disdain for pet shops. I’m sorry to say that but it’s true. No one approves of their practices,” Harrell said during Thursday’s meeting.

But Sewell wasn’t alone in opposing drastic changes to how pets in Connecticut are sourced. Arnold Goldman, a veterinarian with the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, said that if everyone truly hated pet stores, they wouldn’t still be in business.

“To me it seems a little odd that we’re advocating for the destruction of an industry instead of its improvement. I would advocate that we work hard to help them improve — encourage them without destroying an entire industry,” Goldman said.

Kupchick disagreed with his characterization of the proposal to ban commercially-sourced animals.

“I don’t view treating animals in a humane way as a destruction of an industry,” she said. “. . . The concern is how animals are treated. As one vet said to us during our task force meeting, ‘Puppies shouldn’t be as easy to get as Clark Bars.’”

The task force is scheduled to hold its last meeting next Friday when members are expected to vote on recommendations that will be considered by the legislature’s Environment Committee.