Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, wonders if it will drive business online (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A bill that would ban the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from so-called puppy mills outside Connecticut is awaiting action by the House of Representatives after passing the Environment Committee with bipartisan support.

“Puppy mills” is the term used to describe facilities established for the breeding of dogs in conditions that are regarded as inhumane. Concerns were expressed to the Environment Committee that pet shops are buying and selling dogs, cats, and rabbits from out-of-state puppy mills, and are negligent with the proper care needed to tend to the medical, social, and other basic needs of such animals while they are in pet shop care.

Several states have moved to ban the sale of pets in stores outright. In 2018, California became the first state to limit the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits to those obtained from shelters and rescue centers.

Animal advocacy groups are calling for a complete ban on the sale of pets from stores, while pet store owners say that they do not buy from puppy mills and express concern that a ban will hurt their business.

Additionally, concern has been raised that if the state prohibits the sale of pets in stores, then pet owners may turn to unlicensed and unregulated pet vendors, most notably through the internet, in search of pets that fit their specific needs.

An amendment added to the bill charges the Connecticut Department of Agriculture with reviewing the state of California’s implementation of its law and reporting back to the Environment Committee by January 1.

“The goal of this bill is not to shut down businesses; it is to protect consumers and to cut off the puppy mill supply chain,” said state Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel.

Jo-Anne Basile, Executive Director of Connecticut Votes for Animals, was one of the scores who testified in favor of the bill, which eventually passed the Environment Committee by a 26-2 vote.

She said more than 100 stores around the state operate by selling pet supplies and partnering with rescues, while 12 stores sell animals from other sources.

“Connecticut’s 12 pet stores need to change their business model to reflect the values of the state,” Basile said. “Although Connecticut has a history in addressing puppy mills, the United States Department of Agriculture only minimally enforces standards of care as specified in the Animal Welfare Act.”

Also testifying in favor was Debbie Bauman, who is the owner of Barkery Boo’tique in New Milford, which is a pet store that sells just about everything — except pets.

“Pets should never be treated as product and it is impossible to know for certain whether an animal was bred in inhumane conditions,” Bauman said.

Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, added: “The bill cuts off the puppy mill channel and ensures that Connecticut residents receive animals raised in healthy environments.”

Annie Hornish, the Connecticut Senior State Director of The Human Society of the United States (HSUS), said the bill should not impact responsible breeders.

“Responsible breeders do not sell to pet shops,” Hornish said.

Although the majority of testimony was in favor of the bill, some say it is time for action, not further studies.

“The bill that came out of the Environment Committee calls for further study of a problem that requires no further study,” said Debora M. Bresch, Senior State Legislative Director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “It is no mystery that Connecticut pet stores source their puppies from puppy mills despite their claims to the contrary — we have clear evidence substantiating this.”

Bresch added, that “it is also clear that the regulatory approach, attempted over many years, has failed. A study would simply allow pet stores to continue to hide behind the façade of rescue while still engaging in the inhumane commercial pet trade.”

Lucia and Peter Noel, owners of the Gentle Jungle Pet Store in Meriden, said the bill misdirects anger at pet stores.

“By law, pet stores are required to list the origin and breeder of the puppy, have the puppy checked by the breeder’s veterinarian, have the puppy checked again by their own veterinarian, and have the puppy checked by their veterinarian every subsequent week,” the Noels testified. “Although something needs to be done on a federal level, the Gentle Jungle Pet Store does not, and cannot buy from puppy mills.”

Another concern is that the legislation may create a different problem.

“Although supportive of the bill, it is concerning that individuals who come to discover that puppies sold in pet stores originate from puppy mills may shift their purchases to online stores,” Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, said. “Such online stores are unregulated and many of these animals also originate from puppy mills.”