Fighting Pet Sale Bans
A new model ordinance in Macomb County, Mich., puts a spotlight on how dangerously misguided pet sale bans can be. The question is, how will the industry fight back?
A year and a half ago, we told you about a ban on the sale of all animals in the town of Surfside, Fla., which was followed by a similar ban in Bay Harbor Island. While this type of ban has not yet taken off across the country, a recent development in Michigan should give everyone pause.
Macomb County, which includes the northern suburbs of Detroit, has passed a model Humane Pet Acquisition Ordinance that prohibits the sale of dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, long-lived birds and large reptiles. Upon its passage, the County Board of Commissioners directed staff to distribute this model ordinance to all 27 of the county’s municipalities, with the encouragement that they take it up and pass it locally.
To date, one jurisdiction has done so. Eastpointe amended the ordinance, removing the references to “long-lived birds” and “large reptiles.” They then passed it, leaving the prohibitions on the sales of dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets in place. Activists who had turned out for the hearing praised the city council for taking this “bold” step, conveniently failing to mention the fact that Eastpointe doesn’t have a single pet store selling dogs, cats or rabbits.
But there is a store that sells ferrets, and the prohibition on ferret sales was kept in place despite (or maybe because of?) this. The presence of a ferret rescue within the county was cited as a motivation for their inclusion in the original ordinance and the city’s decision not to remove them from their amended version.
When bans only address dogs and cats, it’s easy for the industry to rationalize them away. Even those of us in the know are susceptible to the emotional testimony offered by those who describe conditions at unlicensed, illegal breeding facilities only to misleadingly call for a ban on the sale of animals from pet stores, which are required to obtain their animals from USDA-licensed and inspected sources. The fact that such bans can actually lead prospective pet owners to the very facilities they decry is lost in the shuffle.
A healthy pet trade requires a healthy supply of well-bred animals, and ordinances like the one Macomb County is pushing on its municipalities are a threat that all of us need to take seriously. The inclusion of “large reptiles” and “long-lived birds” suggests that the prohibitions in this model ordinance are far less about breeding conditions than they are about the sale of these types of animals at all. Regardless of your specific business, this kind of legislation should be cause for concern.
Responsible, lifelong pet ownership begins with prospective pet owners finding the perfect pet for their unique situation. Bans like the one introduced in Macomb County limit the sources from which a family can obtain that perfect pet and increase the likelihood of relinquishment.
We as an industry have a vested interest in increased, responsible ownership of pets obtained from all sources, and we have the hands-on expertise in animal care that many activists lack. Yet somehow, we have allowed ourselves to be painted as heartless and profit-driven, caring less about animal well-being than our bottom line. Eastpointe’s city manager was blunt in his assessment of our industry: “You’re in the money business; you’re not in the pet business.”
Of course, we know that’s not the truth. But what are we doing to counter that narrative? How are we communicating our firsthand knowledge of animal well-being to lawmakers and the public? What do we do to show that we care for animals AND we care about animals?
Transparency is the key. We can’t just tell what we do and how we do it, we need to show. Retailers need to engage customers to show that their pets’ best interests are your top priority. Manufacturers must be able to explain why they choose the materials they do for their foods and products. We as an industry need to do a better job of showcasing our science-based approaches to animal care and human well-being through the efforts of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) and others.
The individuals and groups that accuse us of putting profits before pets are seen as altruists motivated by a desire to help animals. Their lack of experience and their misstatements are excused by their passion and the fact that they don’t profit directly from their position on the issue. Conversely, our expertise is often discounted and our refutation of activists’ claims with facts is dismissed.
Until we can convince people that it is possible to care for animals’ health and well-being while earning a living in the process, we will continue to face challenges like the one presented by Macomb County’s model Humane Pet Acquisition Ordinance. For more information please contact the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) directly.
Mike Bober is executive vice president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on ways to engage the public and your elected officials, contact Bober at firstname.lastname@example.org.