California Pet Sale Ban Becomes Law
What you need to know about America’s first statewide pet sales ban.
On October 13, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 485 into law. The first statewide ban on pet sales from stores, AB 485 will go into effect in January 2019. No dogs, cats, or rabbits will be allowed for sale at stores unless sourced from rescues and shelters.
PIJAC, California stores, the American Kennel Club, and many other groups stood strong against this measure. Here’s what you need to know about the implications and consequences of AB 485.
Californians Will Suffer
There are several groups of Californians who will suffer most under AB 485. The first is pet store professionals at dozens of stores statewide. These highly regulated entities are the most overseen and most transparent providers of pets in California. Yet they now face the threat of going out of business, as AB 485 does not require non-profit shelters and rescues to provide cats, dogs or rabbits to pet stores. Thus, stores may not have a reliable supply of animals. This is especially critical for independent stores, as the sale of a live animal is often the catalyst to a long-lasting customer relationship—and it is these relationships that allow stores to compete with online and chain competitors.
Also facing consequences are pet lovers who prefer purebred and other pets that have specific characteristics. Life circumstances such as small children, allergies and small homes mean certain pets are simply inappropriate. Under AB 485, getting the right pet will be more difficult.
A third group negatively impacted by the new law is made up of pet owners who discover health issues with their pets after bringing them home. A last-minute amendment to the law exempts pet stores from most of the current consumer, pet and business protections required in Article 2 of the California Health and Safety Code, Division 105, Part 6, Chapter 5. Veterinary checks, permit requirements, transparency provisions, fines and warranty regulations are no longer applicable to pet stores, because lawmakers recognized that stores will not be able to guarantee the origins, genetics and other important characteristics of the pets they source from rescues and shelters.
Lastly, pets themselves are very likely to face consequences. Pet stores were the most regulated place for people to find their companion animal. In addition to a federal ban on illegal commercial breeders selling to anyone—including stores—Article 2’s provisions are quite stringent. Rescues and shelters, meanwhile, are lightly regulated under Hayden’s Law, with merely basic animal welfare and veterinarian inspections required.
In the end, ethical pet stores are likely to go out of business; unethical ones may put profits before customer needs. The Better Business Bureau is already warning about an increase in illegal scams online. Furthermore, bad breeders will likely find a more attractive market, now that ethical commercial breeders can’t sell to stores. A weakened ethical breeding community is bad for everyone.
Rescues and Shelters Not Addressed
Under the animal activist theory, rescues and shelters are assumed to be good actors. Conversely, pet stores are assumed to care only about profits.
Again, pet stores are regulated under federal and state laws that—until AB 485 takes effect—make them the most regulated pet providers in California. This doesn’t mean that bad actors don’t slip in from time to time, but it does mean that Hayden’s Law is nowhere near as stringent as provisions related to pet stores. And the animal activist theory that Governor Brown endorsed in his signature completely ignores the fake California rescue that was charged—and another convicted—with animal cruelty earlier this year.
Rescues and shelters do great work. But they cannot take the place of pet stores—the two entities take care of different pets and frequently serve different pet lovers.
The Path Forward
There is work to be done before AB 485 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
Affected storeowners can pursue several courses of action. They can undertake the cost—both in terms of construction and changing customer relationships—to convert their stores to a product-only model. They can take steps to identify shelters and rescues willing to provide them with animals to sell. They can close. Or they can file suit and challenge the validity of the law.
Those of us here at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and in the broader animal care community have our work cut out for us, as well. All of the concerns we identified as reasons to oppose AB 485 remain, and we owe it to Californians and their companion animals to work with the Assembly and the governor to address these issues before their unintended consequences cause real harm.
Through its impact on existing state protections, AB 485 shows that legislation—whether good or bad—can always be amended. It’s up to all of us to help California’s elected officials make positive changes to this law to better protect pets, pet owners, and those who serve them.
Mike Bober is the president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.