New law will tighten loophole that allowed sale of puppy mill dogs in California pet stores

Despite vet care exceeding $14,000, Churro died about a month after coming home. (Courtesy Kevyn Camacho and R

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Despite vet care exceeding $14,000, Churro died about a month after coming home. (Courtesy Kevyn Camacho and Robyn Whitman)

Sweet Churro died, despite thousands of dollars spent to save her. So did Sunday. Taquito and Bella suffered but were lucky — they survived.

The one thing these pups had in common: They were sold in California pet stores as bona fide “rescues,” even though they were actually bred at puppy mills, where disease and neglect are more the rule than the exception. Breeders wiggled around California’s new puppy mill ban by “laundering” puppy mill pups through newly created sham rescues, which they registered as nonprofits with the IRS.

That allowed young, pure-bred, gravely ill dogs like Churro, Taquito, Sunday and Bella to be sold for thousands of dollars in Golden State pet shops with the patina of legitimacy.

On Sept. 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2152 into law, aiming to close this heart-rending loophole. “Bella’s Act,” by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, will prohibit pet stores from selling dogs, cats or rabbits, period. Animals will still be available in pet stores — but only if they come from public shelters and bona fide rescue groups that do not deal with breeders. Bella’s Act caps adoption fees at $500 and prohibits pet stores from receiving fees for allowing animals to be displayed — which proponents hope quashes the puppy-profit motive once and for all.

Puppy meets chicken at the OC Animal Care center in Tustin  in 2018 . (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“In California, we are putting an end to the cruel puppy mill industry for good,” Newsom said in a prepared statement. “I am proud to sign this legislation to advance California’s nation-leading animal welfare protections and help more pets join loving families.”

Newsom also signed SB 573 by Sen. Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, which requires shelters and animal control agencies to microchip all dogs and cats with current information before releasing them to new owners, or owners seeking to reclaim them.

“Microchips not only help ensure your pet gets returned if they are lost or stolen and they are completely safe, but protect your pet in the event of a disaster,” said Karen Halligan, chief veterinarian of the Lucy Pet Foundation and Social Compassion in Legislation board member, in a prepared statement. “Especially during these times of uncertainty with COVID-19, with shelters being closed or limited capacity due to staffing, it’s more important than ever that all dogs and cats are microchipped to protect them and ensure their return to the safety of their human family.”

Delight Homan and Taquito Pepe, her beloved chihuahua. His vet bills exceeded $15,000. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Saving lives, money

The laws are aimed at reducing euthanasia. More than 100,000 animals are put to death in California’s public shelters every year, according to analyses of AB 485, the original puppy mill ban.

Bella’s Act “will reduce local government and humane law enforcement costs and is a crucial and urgent step forward in the effort to abolish cruel puppy mills across the country and would uphold our state legacy as a national leader in animal welfare,” said a letter to the governor from a coalition of animal rights groups. The $500 cap on adoption fees, the letter said, “will ensure that only humane business models where true partnerships exist between pet stores and rescue organizations persist in the future.”

The microchip bill will do the same, supporters said. Some 500,000 dogs and cats land in California shelters each year, and only a tiny fraction of those without identification — 15 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats — are ever reunited with their families.

“We thank Governor Newsom for signing this first in the nation lifesaving bill into law that will help reduce euthanasia of dogs and cats that already have homes while also saving taxpayer dollars,” said Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation, in a statement.

Sunday, the Goldendoodle, died eight days after coming home. (Courtesy Kim Jindra)

One more animal welfare bill still sitting on the governor’s desk is AB 1788 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, which would curtail the use of rodent poisons that are impacting native wildlife until a state review is complete. It’s sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund but opposed by pest control interests.

Blood bank bill stalls

Perhaps the greatest disappointment, according to some animal rights activists, was the failure of a bill that would have phased out “closed colony” animal blood banks such as Garden Grove’s Hemopet, where dogs are kept in cages for months and years to harvest their blood for sale, while also legalizing a more humane, volunteer donation system. The bill, which stalled in the Legislature because it did not deal with COVID-19, is expected to be resurrected in the next session.

Worth noting is that the state’s 2020-21 budget allocates up to $5 million to give animal shelters more training and resources to work toward the state’s no-kill goal, though it was just a fraction of what was originally planned; and that Consumer Affairs approved an expansion of veterinary telemedicine during the COVID emergency, said Jennifer Fearing of Fearless Advocacy.
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