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Murray Journal

New Murray city ordinance restricts pet shops from selling animals from "puppy mills"

Sep 21, 2018 01:34PM ● By Jana Klopsch

The plight of pets bred in animal mills has spurred Murray City to enact an ordinance banning sales from such companies. (Photo courtesy Humane Society of Utah)

By Shaun Delliskave|s.delliskave@mycityjournals.com

In a blow to “animal mills,” the Murray City Council voted 5-0 in favor of an ordinance requiring all pet stores to sell only dogs, cats, or rabbits obtained from an animal shelter or a nonprofit rescue organization. Murray is among the first municipalities in Utah to pass such an ordinance.

Councilman Dale Cox sponsored the ordinance at the behest of the Humane Society of Utah. “The Humane Society approached me, and after listening to their presentation and talking with other Murray City Council members and citizens of Murray, I decided that presenting the ordinance was the right thing to do,” he said. 

Murray joins Midvale and Sandy, as well as unincorporated Salt Lake County, in placing such restrictions on pet sales. Pet store chains like Petco and PetSmart endorse selling only shelter pets and have been in the practice of selling them for years. 

For those looking for a specific breed, the ordinance does not affect responsible breeders selling from their homes. Most people know that shelters frequently receive puppies and kittens, but the general public is largely unaware that 25 percent of the animals in a shelter are purebred.

The question was asked if the law would apply to anyone who ends up with a litter of puppies or kittens and sells them. Would they be at risk for prosecution?  Deann Shepherd with the Humane Society of Utah clarified, “No, of course not, everyone who has a litter of puppies or kitties would be considered a mill. Many people who have ‘oops’ litters either surrender them to a shelter to rehome or try to rehome them by selling or giving them directly to a new owner. 

“A puppy mill is a commercial breeding facility (under the USDA definition) which has minimum requirements for care. A backyard breeder is considered someone who repeatedly breeds their pets to be sold for profit. A responsible breeder is someone who only breeds to enhance the breed and sells directly to a buyer, offers a warranty, has a lifetime commitment to their animals, and invests in the health and wellbeing of their animals. Responsible breeders that belong to breeding clubs have statements in their Code of Ethics to not sell to pet stores. When pet stores buy or offer to sell puppies from someone who had an ‘oops’ litter, they can create a backyard breeding problem by offering an incentive to owners to intentionally breed their pets over and over for profit.” 

The ordinance explicitly states, “This section shall not apply to the display, offer for sale, delivery, bartering, auction, giving away, transfer, or sale of dogs, cats or rabbits from the premises from which they were bred and reared.” 

Murray City Attorney G. L. Critchfield expressed reservations about the ordinance. In a memo to the city council, Critchfield warned, “The City should be cautious in passing an ordinance without explicit state legislative authorization, particularly where that ordinance could potentially affect sellers outside of Utah. Such an ordinance may increase the risk of litigation.” Mayor Blair Camp also stated his concerns that the ordinance could set the city up for future litigation. 

In response to the city attorney and mayor’s concerns, Cox states, “I have great regard for Mayor Camp’s and our City Attorney Critchfield’s opinions. However, with Murray City’s history in being proactive, I felt comfortable in joining Salt Lake County and eight other cities with passing a form of this ordinance.” 

The pet store ordinance does not shut down pet stores; rather it requires that they provide a Certificate of Source proving that they acquired dogs, cats, and rabbits from a city/municipal animal shelter or responsible nonprofit rescue organization. This means that any dog, cat or rabbit housed at a pet store may be purchased for the adoption fee asked by the nonprofit organization or animal shelter. All known medical history information must be disclosed at the time of adoption/purchase. 

With the passing of this ordinance, the law goes immediately into effect upon its publication.