When the new year arrives, pet stores in California will no longer be legally allowed to sell dogs, cats or rabbits sourced from commercial sellers. They will still be allowed to sell these types of pets, but only if they are obtained from public animal shelters. The regulation is an effort to crack down on puppy mills which are widely known to be rife with abuse of animals. (Fox 59)

In a few days, California will become the first state to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from pet stores in an effort to crack down on puppy mills.

With AB 485, signed back in October, the state hopes the bill will help keep animals that were produced in mass-breeding facilities, also known as puppy mills, out of the state.

Starting on Jan 1., California pet shops will only be allowed to offer dogs, cats, and rabbits from local shelters and rescues.

There are clearly some very good intentions behind this bill, but it’s problematic on a couple of levels. I’ll begin by saying that the puppy mill industry is simply awful and animal welfare officers in most states never seem to have the resources to keep track of them and crack down on the abusers. Back when I used to volunteer with a Humane Society shelter on a regular basis we worked with animal control and saw some of the horror shows they encountered. We adopted one dog some years ago who had been rescued from a puppy mill and he was really messed up for life.

With all of that said, and as much as my more emotional side wants to cheer this new California law, it creates new problems while attempting to solve old ones. First of all, this only applies to retail sales. Puppy mills frequently market their dogs directly to people looking for particular breeds. This makes it tougher to operate a large-scale puppy mill but still allows them to conduct business.

Also, not all breeders are running puppy mills as the term is generally understood. Some are conscientious pet owners who avoid excessive inbreeding, take good care of their animals and find them suitable homes, though for a profit, of course. A law like this hits the good breeders as well as the monstrous puppy mill operators. Sure, I would love to see all of the shelters emptied before people start buying designer dogs, but some folks just prefer particular breeds and are willing to pay a premium for them.

That brings us back to the small government, conservatism argument. California is effectively tamping down what is otherwise a perfectly legal business. Is that truly the state government’s job? Perhaps it might have been better to invest more heavily in animal control operations across the state and vastly stiffen the penalties for running inhumane puppy mills. And if they’re in the mood to spend money, they could consider subsidizing the shelters so the donation costs for adoptions aren’t as high.