Pet Care Community Legislative and Regulatory Landscape Overview
PIJAC expects to see increased activity impacting the pet care community in the upcoming year.
In our role as the advocacy watchdog for the responsible pet care community, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) works to protect and advance legislative and regulatory priorities with lawmakers. During the 2017-2018 sessions, we identified and tracked over 1,800 pet care-related bills, which was a 14 percent increase over the 2015-2016 period.
With the new year and new legislative sessions, we expect an even busier—and more challenging—agenda with another increase in the number of bills introduced impacting animal care, pet owners and pet industry professionals.
Here’s an overview of some of what happened during the 2017-2018 sessions:
At the federal level, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act was enacted when the Farm Bill was signed into law on Dec. 20. This milestone legislation provides for grants to domestic violence shelters to create accommodations for pets. It will have a tremendous positive impact on domestic violence victims, ensuring a safe haven for themselves, their families and their beloved pets.
PIJAC is proud to have joined the many organizations and individuals from the pet care, law enforcement, legal, veterinary, animal welfare, government and other communities who came together to advocate for and advance the PAWS Act into law. The Act was our priority discussion item at our two Capitol Hill events this fall: the fly-in when nearly 100 PIJAC and pet care community members met with members of Congress, and the post-election Pet Partners therapy dog de-stress event attended by over 100 Congressional staffers.
The Farm Bill also addressed public health risks posed by unhealthy and potentially contagious dogs brought into the country by imposing new reporting requirements on the number and health issues of imported dogs.
Animal abuse was the most common focus of state-level, pet-related bills, with over 550 bills being presented in 49 states. Many of these bills sought to increase conviction penalties, raising fines and the classification of abuse crimes from misdemeanors to felonies.
Legislation on animal abuser registries was introduced in 29 states. While some provided for welcome transparency and made offender information accessible to agencies and businesses involved with pets, others sought to impose the requirement of checking the registry prior to transferring a pet to a new owner. This would not only be onerous for small businesses, but could put pet store employees, shelter staff and rescue volunteers in potentially dangerous situations.
Nearly 40 jurisdictions across the country saw legislation introduced on the application of animal care standards and registration requirements. Pet stores have been highly regulated for many years, but shelters and rescues have not been subject to the same rules.
We saw an increase in communities legally recognizing the fact that animal care is animal care, regardless of whether the custodian is a breeder, pet store, shelter or rescue. A number of states—including Connecticut, New York, Louisiana, Missouri, Maryland and Kansas—amended or imposed regulations covering a broader range of animal keepers and creating more balanced oversight.
There were also state-level efforts to subsidize reduced- or no-cost spay neuter programs by imposing fees on pet food. This type of legislation would impose a financial hardship on the pet owner either way, whether they pay for the surgery or pay higher food costs throughout the pet’s lifetime, as pet stores would have to pass the additional cost on to the consumer. PIJAC worked with industry allies to oppose these taxes and fees, and they failed to pass in states including Hawaii, New Mexico and Virginia.
Pet sales bans were the most common bill introduced at the local level. Nearly 100 were proposed, which was down from the previous session. However, the focus has shifted to statewide bans, which will have far broader implications for the pet care community. Bans are well-intentioned but misguided in that they will harm small businesses while doing nothing to address illegal breeders and others who mistreat animals or mislead consumers.
Maryland and California enacted sales bans in 2017 and 2018. Maryland’s law bans the sales of dogs and cats from any source, and goes into full effect in 2020. California’s law limits stores to only selling dogs, cats and rabbits sourced from rescues or shelters, and became effective Jan. 1, 2019. Statewide bans proposed in Connecticut and Virginia failed to pass.
This is a small subsection of the actions that PIJAC tracked and acted on in the most recent session. We expect to see many bills reintroduced in the new legislative schedule, especially those that seek to ultimately reduce pet ownership, including sales bans that reduce the availability of pets, and licensing fees and taxes that will raise the cost of owning a companion animal. We urge you to join PIJAC today at pijac.org/join to stay informed and add your support as we prepare to tackle the issues that affect the entire responsible pet care community. PB
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).