This guest essay takes a novel approach to protecting dogs, cats, and other companion animals from being treated as insentient commodities.1
Puppy mills and kitten factories truly are disaster areas
Ask any Coloradan, and we’ll tell you we’re no strangers to wildfire. 2013 was one of our worst years on record. As our State burned, we heard heartbreaking stories of victims packing-up their lives in the last seconds before their homes ignited. When the emergency bells ring, Coloradans are experts at packing our lives into small cardboard boxes. When our homes are destroyed, we grieve not the loss of things, but give thanks for the loved ones whose lives were spared. After all, home is not so much a place as it is the presence of friends and family.
On Monday February 3, Coloradans from across the State converged at the State Capitol to tell lawmakers what they thought about the Humane Pet Act: a bill to stop puppy mills. The rejection of the “Humane Pet Act” by a 6-5 vote by Colorado’s Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee failed dogs and cats because it views them as insentient commodities on whom a price can be placed, rather than as feeling beings. (See “Colorado’s ‘Humane Pet Act’ Fails in Committee.“)
You’re probably wondering how disaster-preparedness relates to a bill about dogs and cats.
Indulge me. Imagine you’re home, watching news about a wildfire one town over; your dog resting at your feet, your cat in your lap. Suddenly, you hear the emergency broadcast system: mandatory evacuation. You jump to your feet, rushing room to room, filling a box as you go: your childhood teddy; a yearbook; a baby album…
In the heat of the moment, you’re unaware, but the things you’re packing say a lot about what you value. Something outside explodes. And, suddenly, you remember: your pets. There’s no time to think. One moment, you’re reaching down; the next, you’re loading who matters most into your car.
Driving away, you check your rearview mirror; one last look before it’s all gone. But all you see is your dog, gazing from behind the same window he’s always gazed, waiting for you to come home. From the passenger side, your cat purrs contentedly. You’re confused, but you keep telling yourself: your dog was $50 at the local shelter, your cat $2,000 at the local pet store.
But people don’t really think that way…do they? Sadly, some do. Puppy mills are manufacturers of the lives pet stores sell. Products need markets; shelves need merchandise. There is a well-documented link between puppy mills and pet stores. And in an industry that views dogs and cats as thingsto be bought and sold, there’s no need to think beyond dollars and cents.
But I don’t believe most Coloradans think about their pets in such cold, transactional terms. Our pets are family; not things to be left behind. Yet, there were enough votes on the Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee to kill a bill that could and would have 86’d puppy and kitten mills from our great State. Here’s how it all went down.
Six months ago, a group of people who wanted to make a difference for Colorado’s dogs and cats talked about relevant issues. Some argued we should leave well-enough alone, that PACFA—Colorado’s licensing authority for the pet trade—had everything under control. That notion was challenged, pointing out that 7 inspectors aren’t nearly enough to check the 42,000 dogs and cats that crossed into Colorado in 2019 alone, often from origins unknown.
And an industry that thinks of our companion animals as products simply cannot be trusted to police itself. A few days before Monday’s hearing, legislators and lobbyists huddled behind closed doors to figure out what sort of bone to throw our way. It turns out the price of admission for a bill like this, to a committee like Rural Affairs and Agriculture, is akin to highway robbery.
A lengthy list of amendments left the bill not entirely ineffectual. But it was stripped of its greatest power: a retail ban on the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. With so many strings attached, I wondered: would the Humane Pet Act still be enough to crack down on Colorado’s puppy mill problem? Enough is a point of view, but for me, the bill as amended was a booby prize. Too many legislators seemed uninterested in hearing about puppy mills. Others perked-up only to hear tearful entreaties not to pass a law that would destroy the “family business”.
Emotion won the day. Fear triumphed over reason.
And with the conversation having changed from one about helping suffering animals to one about not hurting people guilty of inhumane practices, the Humane Pet Act died. It was quite the spectacle in a hearing meant to illuminate the many dark corners of the puppy mill industry, and how Colorado is contributing to it.
The Humane Pet Act was not the first attempt at kicking puppy mills out of Colorado, but it is the latest failure to protect our pets. The 6-5 vote against the bill goes to show that our lawmakers and many Coloradans remain confused about what puppy mills are and why they are bad for people and pets. But what do you think?
Is your dog just a thing? Is your cat worth only as much as you paid? Do dogs and cats become worthless when their bodies have no more to give? Think about that the next time you give your business to a pet store that profits off puppies and kittens.
Bad actors think nothing of exploiting pets and the people who buy them. Puppy mills need pet stores to hide behind; not the other way around. Data abound showing pet stores thrive when they proffer products and services, not lives.
The beating heart of the Humane Pet Act was its ban on pet stores selling dogs and cats, because an industry that thinks in black and white, deserves a black and white law to regulate it.
Once amended, the Humane Pet Act still read as a love letter to our dogs and cats, but with a giant P.S. at the end.
P.S. We love you forever, and we’re sorry for leaving you behind in the fire. There were so many things we wanted to save, but the box was so small…
Puppy mills and kitten factories truly are disaster areas