The Real Ramifications

The growing number of bans on live-animal sales across the United States will end up serving as a perfect illustration of the law of unintended consequences.


In 1936, an American sociologist named Robert K. Merton wrote about a recognized phenomenon in social action—the law of “unanticipated consequences.” In that article, he noted that two of the most common sources of unanticipated consequences were ignorance and error. Merton also noted that unanticipated consequences result when people are so determined to achieve certain intended consequences that they willfully ignore any likely unintended effects.

The current move among some cities and states to ban the retail sale of pets is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences at work. Well-funded and politically savvy animal rights activists have convinced a few naive and well-meaning lawmakers that banning retail pet sales will put substandard breeders out of business. Unfortunately, these laws will have the opposite effect.

It’s not surprising that laws based on a false premise are doomed to fail from the start. Retail pet sales bans are based on the incorrect assumption that most pet stores buy their puppies from substandard breeders. That’s simply not true. The vast majority of pet stores buy their puppies from high-quality professional breeders who meet or exceed federal standards for responsible animal care. Responsible retailers simply don’t purchase pets from substandard breeders.

What is the best evidence of that fact? Pet store puppies typically are covered by warranties ranging from one to five years, giving consumers protection and recourse that is unavailable to them when acquiring puppies from other sources, such as shelters, backyard breeders or the Internet. The five-year warranty that accompanies every puppy purchased from The Hunte Corporation, for example, demonstrates our confidence in the quality of our puppies and the breeders they came from.

There is another angle to this argument. Retail pet stores account for a very small portion of total pet sales. Sources such as the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimate that retail sales account for only about seven percent of all pet sales. This means that the vast majority of pets are coming from other sources, including shelters and rescue facilities, backyard breeders and Internet sites.

While retail pet stores typically are subject to extensive local regulation, very few jurisdictions have established anything more than token regulation for shelters and rescue facilities. Backyard breeders, by definition, are virtually unregulated. The Internet, as everyone knows, is like the Wild West in terms of the virtual absence of law and order in the form of regulatory controls.

The fact is that retail stores are, far and away, the most regulated and the most accountable sources of high-quality pets. By banning the sale of pets at retail, lawmakers are actually driving consumers into less regulated, higher-risk pet purchasing territory. That’s not putting substandard breeders out of business; that’s forcing customers right into their arms.

By cutting off retail stores—the most regulated and accountable of all pet sources—retail pet sales bans are actually creating an expanded market for the very substandard breeders they’re intended to eliminate.

This is the law of unintended consequences at its most egregious. If local governments truly want to put substandard pet breeders out of business, they should work with local pet retailers and the broader pet industry to implement responsible regulations that ensure high standards of puppy care while protecting the ability of consumers to buy healthy pets from the local pet stores they know and trust.
Andrew Hunte is the president and CEO of The Hunte Corporation, a leading distributor of high-quality purebred puppies to retail outlets in U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia.

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