The New Normal?
Pet sales bans are gaining momentum at the local, county and state level, creating dire implications for the entire industry.
On Feb. 11, 2014, just before 8:30 p.m., the unthinkable happened. It went largely unnoticed, but the repercussions for everyone within the pet industry may be huge. Surfside, Fla., a town in Miami-Dade County, became the second municipality in the country to ban the sale of all animals within the town limits. The first, Flagler Beach, Fla., enacted its ban in 2009. Now, after almost five years, has the other shoe dropped?
“Provided that no animals including without limitation dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, turtles, gerbils, hamsters, cows, horses, sheep and other domestic animals or livestock shall be sold on the premises.” With these 29 words, Surfside declared itself closed to the sale of all animals. Despite testimony submitted in opposition by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Surfside Town Council spent roughly two minutes—just enough time for a unanimous roll call vote—considering the ordinance.
As you may have guessed, Surfside has no pet stores within its half-square mile of territory. The 5,750 or so residents of the town aren’t likely to even notice the change. But if you’ve ever heard an activist cite the “40 towns and cities across the country” that have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats without mentioning how many had active stores at the time, you know that doesn’t matter. A new and troubling precedent has been set.
What does this mean for the pet industry as a whole? It’s too soon to know for sure, but this ordinance serves as a stark reminder that we are all in this together.
This sort of legislation is nothing new for retailers that sell dogs and cats. For years now, their business model has been under attack. Sales restrictions and outright bans have been proposed at the local, county and state level from coast to coast. In those places where current retailers do exist, they are often vastly outnumbered and outspent by activists with a national network of support and a handbook that covers everything from proposing a ban to drumming up media attention and grassroots pressure.
Now we face the very real prospect of a new reality in which every local ordinance that proposes to ban the sale of dogs and cats may also include reptiles, small mammals, and even birds and fish. That means stores that have previously taken comfort in the fact that they do not sell dogs and cats can no longer rest easy. They must pay far greater attention to what goes on at all levels of government and prepare to engage. Government-mandated changes in business model are at best costly, and at worst fatal.
The producers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors who supply these stores—whether with animals, food or pet products—must also become far more engaged on this issue. From the smallest independent retailer to the largest national chain, these suppliers’ customers will be affected if all-animal-sales bans become the norm. If stores are forced to change or close, suppliers’ businesses will be impacted, as well.
It is entirely possible that the Surfside ordinance will be repealed or revised. Even if it stands, there is no guarantee that other municipalities will follow the lead of these two small Florida localities any time soon. But it would be wise to look at the recent history of dog and cat sales bans.
Only two were enacted in 2009, but they were followed by four each in 2010 and 2011. Since then, efforts have ramped up significantly, with 12 bans passed in 2012, and 11 in 2013. In just the first three months of this year, we have already seen four Florida towns enact bans, and there are at least 10 more currently under consideration at the local, county and state levels.
The industry can’t sit back and wait to see what happens next. It is time for all of us to come together. We need to work with our elected officials to show them that ban proposals are often based on emotionalism and hyperbole, rather than sound science or even demonstrable evidence. We need to have clear and concise data to show the economic impact a ban could have in terms of lost jobs and revenue. And we must be ready to offer reasonable alternatives that show we are serious about safeguarding the health and well-being of the animals in our care.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information about the Surfside ordinance and efforts to monitor and head off similar legislation near you, visit pijac.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.