Dozens of people came to the state Capitol complex on Wednesday to weigh in on whether the legislature ought to adopt new rules regarding the retail sale of puppies in Connecticut.
One one side were those argued that a complete ban on pet stores selling puppies is the only way to clamp down on unscrupulous breeders who operate “puppy mills.”
On the other side were representatives from the pet industry, who say such a ban would hurt small businesses while doing nothing to combat the problem.
Both sides pressed their case at a public hearing before a bipartisan legislative panel charged with reviewing the issue and coming up with recommendations that will be used to craft a bill to be debated in the 2014 legislative session, which begins in February.
Among the more than 40 people signed up to speak at the hearing was former state Rep. Kenneth Bernhard, now a lawyer in private practice.
Bernhard said he knows with “almost complete certainty” that any puppy sold in a pet shop originated in a puppy mill. “The breeding dogs that live in barns and warehouses that produce puppies for sale in pet stores live under conditions which, in most instances, if perpetrated by a CT homeowner, would result in charges being brought by the local animal control officer,” he said.
“These dogs live lives which none of us, if we witnessed it, would tolerate much less perpetrate,” Bernhard added. “Dogs are man’s best friend… and yet we permit a local pet store industry that panders to this reality to sustain, promote and perpetrate another industry: puppy factories that torture breeding dogs.”
Representatives from the pet industry challenged Bernhard’s assertions. They said animal breeders are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regularly inspects their facilities. The USDA regulates everything from the temperature inside the kennels to the amount of bedding that must be provided.
“We’re certainly all in agreement that so-called puppy mills have no place in American commerce, in American society,” said Charlie Sewell, executive vice president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group, and a member of the legislative task force.
But Sewell said virtually all pet stores obtain their stock of puppies from USDA-licensed breeders — very few of which have serious violations.
Bernhard said he is not convinced there is sufficient oversight of those breeders. “I read all the time that we don’t have enough inspectors for nuclear plants,” he said. “How many inspectors do you think are out there in the field finding these violations? All the time were hearing [about] inadequate funding for inspections…I dare say that most breeding facilities aren’t inspected at all, or are inspected so infrequently it doesn’t matter.”
Several pet store owners say they conduct their own inspections. Togi Kuttamperoor, who plans to open a pet shop in New Haven next year, said he recently returned from a visit to several breeding facilities.
Banning business like his from selling puppies will simply drive unscrupulous pet sellers underground, he told the task force.