ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you're in the market for a puppy, the pet store may not sell what you're looking for. Communities around the country have passed laws banning puppy sales in pet stores. NPR's Greg Allen sent this story from Florida about the debate over where puppies come from and how they should be sold.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: All day long at the Petland store in Plantation, a Fort Lauderdale suburb, customers come in to look at and play with the puppies.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're the cutest little dog I've ever seen.
ALLEN: The large, national pet store chains don't sell dogs. Petland stores do. In fact at this store, doggie accessories and puppies are all owner Vicki Siegel sells.
VICKI SIEGEL: Maltese, Cavalier King Charles, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, dachshunds - one of my favorites.
ALLEN: Even at her larger, full-service pet store in the nearby town of Davie, Siegel says puppies and puppy products account for 85 percent of her sales.
V. SIEGEL: So the puppies are the ones that pay the bills.
ALLEN: That's why, Siegel says, she was shocked a year ago when she learned the Davie Town Council was considering a law that would ban stores from selling dogs. That, she says, would put her out of business. After bringing her case to the town council, the bill was rejected. But at least 30 other communities in Florida - local governments - have passed similar bans - most in the last three years.
Bans on dog sales in pet stores have also been adopted in California, New Jersey and other states. They're aimed at cracking down on substandard commercial breeders who activists say supply the puppies that pet stores sell.
With three of her own, Michelle Lazarow is clearly a dog lover. She's the person who has led the drive to stamp out pet store dog sales in South Florida. She says the laws are intended to encourage pet stores to follow the lead of the national chains - PetSmart, Petco and Pet Supermarket. None sell dogs. Instead, they promote adoptions through shelters and rescue groups. About 10 years, Lazarow bought a pet store puppy that developed a chronic illness. She says that opened her eyes about where pet stores get the puppies they sell.
MICHELLE LAZAROW: All stores - 99 percent of them - sell what's called puppy mill dogs or large-scale commercial breeder dogs. Yes, they're USDA, but that means nothing as we've come to see.
ALLEN: That phrase - puppy mill - is one that's loaded and controversial. Lazarow says it includes any large-scale breeding operation that places monetary value over the welfare of the animal. It's a broad definition, one they apply to any breeder who sells dogs to pet stores. Those breeders are all subject to annual USDA inspections.
But animal welfare activists, like Cori Menkin with the ASPCA , say the inspections don't amount to much because the federal regulations are too lax.
CORI MENKIN: The regulation of breeders is so poor that all it really does is give consumers and the general public a false sense of security that their dogs are coming from a humane environment when they're not.
ALLEN: Menkin says her group is working to put pressure directly on breeders. A ban on dog store pet sales would put additional pressure on an industry that she says has been slow to change. But there are many who disagree.
Patti Strand is with the National Animal Interest Alliance, a group that works closely with the American Kennel Club. The AKC opposes the ban on pet store dog sales. Strand says commercial breeders have improved practices in recent years - progress, she says, that's ignored by activists.
PATTI STRAND: They assume everybody who is selling dogs to pet stores and every pet store that sells them are engaged in some kind of horrific puppy mill kind of operation. And that's not only not fair, it's not true.
ALLEN: In Miami, the city commission recently adopted a six-month moratorium on new pet stores selling dogs while it studies a permanent ban. The future of those bans, though, may be decided not by local governments but by the courts. There are lawsuits filed by pet store owners pending in Florida, Illinois and Arizona. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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