GREENBELT, Md. (CN) – Animal rights activists are applauding a federal judge’s decision to uphold a new Maryland law that bans retail pet stores from selling cats and dogs, a measure designed to curb puppy mills.
Emily Hovermale, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said in an emailed statement Monday that her group was pleased with the ruling that she says “protects puppies and unsuspecting consumers from the horrors of puppy mills.”
The 79-page opinion issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander found the No More Puppy-Mill Pups Act of 2018, which went into effect Jan. 1, does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause or pet shop owners’ equal protection rights.
“Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged that the Puppy-Mill Act is the rare statute that regulates evenhandedly but imposes significant burdens on interstate commerce,” the Barack Obama appointee wrote. “Although the Act prohibits brick-and-mortar stores from participating in the sale of cats and dogs, consumers still have a plethora of choices when seeking to obtain a pet, including rescue shelters, animal control units, USDA licensed breeders and brokers, and unregulated hobby breeders.”
She added, “Protecting consumers, reducing financial support for mill breeders, and encouraging pet adoption are indisputably legitimate state interests.”
The court battle began last month just days after the law went into effect. The Towson-based pet store Just Puppies and a handful out-of-state retailers filed the complaint asserting compliance with the law would force pet stores “to completely change their business model of selling pets if they wish to stay in business.”
Among those who supported the legal challenge was Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
“Pet sale bans do not do what their proponents say they are going to do,” Bober said in a phone interview Monday.
His group represents breeders and retail pet stores. He said Maryland’s law and others like it “don’t address anything about breeding conditions and instead negatively impact local pet stores that are impacted by them directly.”
Bober, whose group filed an amicus brief supporting the retailers, said the source-limiting nature of such laws force retailers to take complicated steps to maintain the sale of pets.
“Pet stores can obtain animals from nonprofit sources but there’s no requirement in the law that the nonprofits do business with pet stores,” he said. “If the notion is ‘nobody should buy animals from pet stores,’ are you going to respond positively when they come to you with the hopes of staying in business?”
While the Humane Society said it offers programs for retail pet stores to link with nonprofit pet providers to come in compliance with the law, Bober said he’s yet to see a successful implementation of the program.
“They were…forced to close their retail operation and rebrand themselves as nonprofits in order to allow them to continue to operate at a loss because they are,” he said, calling the Human Society’s offer “unworkable.”
He added, “The reality is…it creates situations where the stores are trucking animals in from thousands of miles away, which seems to defeat the original purpose of the bill.”
Judge Hollander appeared to acknowledge deficiencies in the bill, calling it a “poorly drafted statute” in a section of the opinion addressing the retailers’ arguments that the law favors in-state breeders. But she still found the discrimination claim lacked merit because the bill’s language was neutral in its targets.
Maryland joined three other states in reining in retail pet shops with the passage of its Puppy Mill Act. California passed its version last year while Maine’s bill was passed last month and is set to go into effect next year.
They all aim to address so-called puppy mills, operations that involve the large-scale breeding of dogs and cats in poor conditions. While domestic animal breeding is regulated under the federal Animal Welfare Act, Maryland Delegate Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery County, argued during a hearing for his version of the bill that additional laws were needed. He called the AWA nothing more than a roadmap.
“Dogs are kept in stacked cages with wire mesh for flooring. Dogs are forced to relieve themselves in their cages. Dogs are confined in spaces only six inches…larger than their bodies,” Kramer said as he showed video of alleged puppy mills at the hearing. “Dogs are caged 24 hours a day for their entire lives only to be removed from the cage when being bred. There is no exercise requirement at all.”
In a blog post following Friday’s decision, Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said the three state laws, as well as over 300 local ordinances with similar goals, will help to build a future free of puppy mills
“Pet stores and puppy mills still clinging to animal cruelty should get the message loud and clear: the law is simply not on their side in this fight,” she wrote.
Meagan Borgerson, an attorney with the Annapolis-based law firm of Kagan Stern Marinello & Beard who represented the retail pet shops, did not respond Monday to requests for comment. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who defended the state law, also did not return requests for comment.