Puppy Line

A bill that would ban new pet stores from selling puppies and kittens, an attempt that proponents say would curtail trafficking from puppy and kitten mills, saw major changes Thursday in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee. House Bill 1102 passed on an 7-4 party-line vote and is now headed to the full House. 

There are about a dozen pet stores in Colorado licensed to sell puppies and kittens, and only nine, all along the Front Range, do so on a regular basis, according to testimony during a nearly five-hour hearing Monday.

As introduced, the bill requires pet stores to provide customers with the pet's price, breeder information, the cost of financing the sale, if needed, as well as requiring that information for advertisements. 

But it was another section of the bill that prompted pet stores to testify in opposition on Monday: a stipulation that prevented new pet stores, or existing pet stores that hadn't previously sold dogs or cats, from offering them.

Pet store owners claimed this would prohibit them from selling the business to family members or employees. Several said they had sunk their life savings into their stores, and that the investment represented the only retirement they could rely on. Committee Republicans, including Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, asked why the sponsors were attempting to hurt mom-and-pop stores during a pandemic. 

The bill's legislative declaration was also cited as a problem by the pet store owners. It claims that "pet stores that sell puppies and kittens pose unique consumer protection issues, including misleading sales tactics, baseless health and behavior guarantees, and a lack of transparency about their breeders, the price of puppies and kittens, and financing interest rates.”

HB 1102 is part of the animal rights agenda of first gentleman Marlon Reis and the Humane Society of the United States. Pet store owners and breeders claimed they were never involved in the bill's drafting.

During Monday's hearing, people who had purchased animals from pet stores lauded the information they were given at the time of purchase, as well as breeder information. No one testified that they had personally experienced a problem with the pet they bought from any of the nine stores.

Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, offered two amendments on Thursday during the ag committee hearing: to strip out the legislative declaration and to allow owners to sell their business or change physical locations without risking the state license that is granted under the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act. Co-sponsor Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, added that they removed the legislative declaration because it seemed offensive.

One of the amendments also changes the bill's safety clause — meaning the bill would become law upon the governor's signature — to a petition clause, which would allow citizens to challenge the law through a statewide petition and ballot measure during the 90 days after the bill is signed.

The bill retains the prohibition on allowing new pet stores to obtain PACFA licenses. However, Soper said that a pet store owner could sell their active license to another pet store, which would keep the number of pet stores selling pets constant. The bill still exempts from the law animal shelters, rescues and breeders, despite testimony that animals coming from rescues and shelters come with almost no information and can present a myriad of problems.

Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, noted that the bill caps the number of pet stores that can sell puppies and kittens to those already in existence. The amendments Thursday clarified that no new pet stores would be granted new licenses to do so under the bill.

"I applaud you for working so hard," Pelton said, but that didn't move him to vote for the bill.

Holtorf had pledged Monday to support the bill with the removal of the legislative declaration and if it didn't attack small businesses. "You got almost there for me," he told the sponsors. "The main issues I have today and previously, are that now, there are unintended consequences," which might allow a black market of puppy mills to spring up. "This isn't the right way to control the (puppy mill) market. If you have a supply-side issue, that should be addressed," he said. (A bill attempting to address the sourcing issue died in the same committee last year.)

The bill could cause a monopoly among the pet stores, as well as increasing the value of those licenses, he claimed. "This is not the time, spring of 2021, to be putting this type of pressure on small business," he added.

Buying pets is an emotional issue, and people sometimes act too quickly, said Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, who is a veterinarian. Slowing the process down by having more information available to the consumer is spot-on, she said. 

While committee Chair Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, complimented the pet store in Fort Collins that sells puppies and kittens as exemplary on Monday, she voted in favor of HB 1102 on Thursday.

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