New Jersey Pet Stores Bitten by Overzealous Regulators?
This is already turning out to be anything but a happy new year for a bunch of New Jersey pet stores that made the news for allegedly violating a new state consumer protection law. And the situation that these retailers now find themselves in demonstrates just how dangerous even well-meaning regulation can be for our industry.
New Jersey’s Pet Purchase Protection Act, which was passed by the state legislature last year to ensure a supply of healthy, well-bred pets for state residents, requires pet stores to label the cages of dogs and cats for sale with information about the animals’ breeding, acquisition and health. It was the alleged failure to meet this requirement that earned retailers the most citations.
“Providing consumers with information about the breeder and the animal’s veterinary history allows consumers to make educated choices in purchasing a pet for their family,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman in a press release. “Pet shops that don’t provide this vital information are breaking the law and denying consumers the ability to fully research this important decision.”
But did these pet stores willfully refuse to comply with the law, or is this a case of regulatory confusion and overzealous enforcement? I strongly suspect the latter. After all, nowhere has it been reported that the required information was not available from the retailers, simply that the cages were not labeled appropriately.
In fact, many of the retailers who commented in various media reports said that they simply did not understand the requirements presented by the Pet Purchase Protection Act, particularly those that were added under recent amendments to the law, including the cage-labeling mandate. If this is true, then there was clearly a fundamental failure on the part of regulators to help the affected businesses to comply.
That certainly seems to be the perspective of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the pet industry’s main government affairs advocacy group.
“It is our understanding that these are violations of signage and notification requirements that were included in new legislation that went into effect in June for which the Division [of Consumer Affairs] has yet to issue formal guidance on compliance,” said Mike Bober, president and CEO of PIJAC, of the recent citations.
“We are eager to work with the Division and New Jersey pet stores to clarify and implement these new requirements as soon as possible so that we can continue to be partners in providing New Jersey pet owners with healthy, responsibly raised companion animals.”
Interestingly, PIJAC has been quite vocal in supporting consumer-protection laws like the Pet Purchase Protection Act. The organization just asks that the requirements of such regulation be clearly conveyed to those it effects, and that the businesses in question be given the appropriate time to ensure their compliance. In this case, I’m afraid, that did not happen.
What is also disturbing is that the statement from New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General threatens that cited pet stores that contest the violations will face higher civil penalties. That sounds an awful lot like a strong-arm tactic that would be more appropriate for Tony Soprano than a state attorney general.
Unfortunately, the pet industry will probably see many similar cases in the weeks and months ahead as similar laws are enacted by state and local governments across the country. It seems that we have a perfect storm of various groups pushing for such legislation—oftentimes with ulterior motives, such as eventually instituting overall pet sale bans—and regulators eager to find new sources of revenue to help prop up struggling state and local governments.
The result could be catastrophic for everyone involved, including not only suppliers and retailers, but pet owners as well.