Arizona Legislator Attempts to Overturn City "Puppy-Mill" Bans

Nicole Galvan has to feed her greyhound June by hand, one kibble at a time, because she only has one tooth. The nonprofit that rescued the dog from a commercial breeding facility where she was kept in a cage just six inches longer than her body had to remove all the rest because her jaw was rotting from inadequate dental care. Her back is deformed and her legs are permanently twisted into a crouch from seven years of bearing litter after litter of puppies.

Horrified to discover that what happened to June was legal under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, Galvan successfully lobbied the Tempe City Council in February to ban pet stores from selling dogs from commercial breeding facilities.

But now that victory may be overturned.

In a move that has officials in Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson bristling, Arizona legislators are scrambling to push through a last-minute bill that would yank cities’ power to regulate pet breeding. State Senator Don Shooter (R-Yuma), in the third such attempt in two weeks, has slipped the highly controversial proposal into Senate Bill 1248 using a strike-everything amendment.

Phoenix, like Tempe and about 120 other cities across the country, recently passed an ordinance attempting to block pet stores from selling puppies from what they deem inhumane “puppy mills.” Tucson is in the throes of discussing a similar measure.

On its face, the bill is pro-animal rights.

In addition to making pet breeding regulation a state issue, Shooter’s proposal, if passed, would raise government scrutiny of puppy sourcing by prohibiting pet stores from obtaining animals from breeders who have committed a “direct violation” of USDA regulations within two years.

It would also require pet stores to display the name of the breeder on the puppies’ cages so the general public can research the facility’s quality on their own using the USDA’s online Animal Care Information System.

Pet stores caught using poorly rated breeders three times would be blocked from using commercial facilities and forced to acquire dogs from rescue shelters.

Frank Mineo, who operates seven stores in the Phoenix and Tucson area under the names Animal Kingdom and Puppies ‘N Love, described SB 1248 as a “good compromise” that would both “promote small business and protect our furry friends.”

Contending that the “misguided” city ordinances threatened to destroy the business his family has owned for 50 years, he approached the Legislature for help after failing to overturn Phoenix’s ordinance in the courts.

“The term 'puppy mill' has been unfairly applied to our breeders,” he said. “Having become friends with many breeders, we know there are many who provide good love and care to their animals.”

City officials, however, balked at SB 1248’s reliance on USDA standards as a measure of good breeding conditions, arguing that they are neither humane nor well enforced.

Lauren Kuby, the city councilwoman who proposed Tempe’s unanimously approved ordinance, accused Shooter of “putting profits over puppies” by “bowing” to the whims of the pet industry without properly researching the issue.

“We conducted a six-month study group with animal-welfare groups and people in the pet industry. We filed public-information requests to find out where Tempe pet stores were getting their puppies and what the conditions were like in the breeding facilities. Then, with overwhelming support from the public, we made a very deliberate, careful decision,” she said. “Now, with very little deliberation and analysis, the state is going to overturn what we did in two weeks.”

At a Senate committee meeting last week, Shooter dismissed dozens of citizens who had come to voice their concern about the bill, saying: “We’re not going to take everybody’s time to listen to somebody complain about what the U.S. Department of Agriculture does. We have no jurisdiction.” (Shooter did not respond to New Times’ request for comment.)

Dale Bartlett, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States’ anti-puppy-mill campaign, said the animal-rights organization shared Kuby’s disappointment about the legislature’s attempt to make an “end run,” calling it a “great shame” that the state felt the need to overturn city-instituted protections.

He agreed that USDA protections are inadequate.

However, the Humane Society’s official stance on the bill is neutral.

“We think this new law will keep the absolute worst of the worst puppy mills away from Arizona pet shops,” he said. “But people should still not feel okay about getting a dog from a pet shop because, even if this passes, it’s likely many of the dogs sold there will continue to come from large commercial operations that sacrifice animal welfare in order to maximize profits.”

As for Galvan, she gets sick every time she drives past a pet shop because she can’t help but think of June.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “It’s disappointing. Why won’t they listen to the will of the people?”