The Colorado Springs City Council rejected a measure Tuesday to ban the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats at retail shops in town.

The ordinance would have required stores to source dogs and cats from public animal control shelters or an animal rescue organizations starting in July 2022, but it would have only affected the two Pet City stores in town. All the other retail pet shops focus on supplies and services.  

The new law was backed by advocates who want to shut down the market for dogs from large out-of-state commercial breeders with conditions that contribute to illness and congenital conditions in dogs. They are particularly concerned about the parent dogs who spend their lives producing puppies. Over-bred mother dogs in particular can face health issues, advocates said. 

Pet City owners Bree Maestas and Dustin Haworth said they support humane treatment of animals as well but if the ban had passed it would have shuttered their shops that employ more than 40 people. 

The measure failed 5 to 4 with councilmembers Randy Helms, Wayne Williams, Dave Donelson, Mike O'Malley and Nancy Henjum in opposition to the measure. 

Several councilmembers said they felt this ordinance unfairly targeted the Pet City shops and would not solve the problem of large-scale puppy mills. 

"This is a national federal problem that needs to be worked on at that level," Helms said. 

Henjum said she wanted to see the two sides work together on advocacy since she could see both sides care about animal welfare and the shops have power as buyers to advocate for better treatment. 

"Shaming and blaming each other doesn't get anybody anywhere," she said. 

Council President Tom Strand, who supported the ordinance, tried to work with the owners and advocates on a compromise for years and has not seen much progress, he said. 

The council listened to more than five hours of impassioned testimony from animal advocates who told emotional stories about dogs rescued from puppy mills and those who vigorously defended the practices of the Pet City shops. Those opposed to the ban also argued it could contribute to the completely unregulated breeding of dogs that would lead to animal abuse.

The Pet City owners explained they purchase 20% of their dogs from breeders certified by Canine Cares, which evaluates the physical and emotional health of dogs. They expect work with all Canine Cares certified breeders over the next two years. The certification would limit the breeding of a dog to six litters or six years, Maestas said.

Haworth said after the vote that he didn't feel like anyone had won because of the intense division and he would like to see science-based regulations on the state or national level that would protect animal welfare. 

Numerous Pet City employees and others with connections to the shops spoke in favor of the shops, saying the employees follow up with new owners and many dogs live long, happy and healthy lives after going home with new owners. 

Veterinarian Ken Brady, now retired, was among those who spoke in defense of the health practices of the shops that he helped develop, including a vaccination schedule. 

"They do a much, much better job than I ever anticipated," he said.

Folks fighting for the ban on commercial dog sales gave emotional testimony about dogs they rescued from puppy mills and the neglect and abuse they endured. 

Advocate Pam Horton was among those who told the stories of dogs who suffered physically and mentally from their time in mills. Horton has rescued several Italian greyhounds from mills, including Olive, who lived 12 ½ years in a mill. 

"She lived out in the cold, the heat, the rain, the snow... She was scared and in pain," she said. 

Olive was one of seven dogs Horton rescued who all lost teeth, bone and suffered broken tails in puppy mills. Many proponents pointed out that U.S. Department Agriculture regulations allow for dogs to be held in small, stacked cages that proponents say cause behavioral problems.

Proponents of the law argued that the pet stores could transition to business models that focus on pet supplies and services and host adoption events. 

Spending on pet products reached $103 billion across the country last year, American Pet Products Association reported. Animal advocates pointed to this trend to show that there other business outside of selling dogs. 

The advocates also noted that five states and 400 local governments have adopted similar bans on commercially-bred dog sales.

The state leader with Bailing Out Benji, Vicki Allinger, said she wasn't sure what the next step for local advocates would be following the failure of the measure. She was supportive of the Canine Cares certification in theory, but noted the program is not transparent and the public can't find what out which breeders are certified or obtain inspection records. 

The council's consideration of the ban followed four and half years of advocacy by local residents. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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