NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Any pet stores that open in the city are now prohibited from selling puppies, kittens and bunnies.
The City Council on Tuesday passed to a second reading an ordinance designed largely to prevent the sale of dogs from puppy mills in local pet shops as well as cats and rabbits.
The measure was introduced by City Councilor Marie T. Harpin in October but was put on hold as the attorney general's office reviewed similar bylaws and ordinances passed last year to see if it conflicted with state language. The ordinance had gendered significant support but the General Government Committee had wanted to wait to ensure it would not have to be amended.
The attorney general did largely approve the language with a couple exceptions. Harpin had explained at the General Government meeting on March 3 that the language regarding definitions of a pet store — something several councilors had raised as possibly preventing home breeders — was considered appropriate.
"However, there was some language regarding the seizure of the animals if there was an issue. And that language needed to be changed in our ordinance, it was something that we were unaware of prior to this," she said, referring to the summary provided by the attorney for the Humane Society. That language around "pet store" was also made so "it was easier to understand" by Laura Hagan of the Humane Society of the United States, Harpin said.
"The attorney general found that there was not a conflict, that the bylaw, which is similar to what is before North Adams Council, did not in any way prevent the state from regulating pet shops or shelters, and that pet shops and shelters were still required to meet state law," Hagan explained on Tuesday. "The attorney general found that localities are not allowed to seize animals, they do not have that remedy available to them, they are allowed to issue the fine."
Both Harpin and committee Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer said they had received numerous calls supporting the measure.
It would ban sales of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores but would allow for display of these animals for adoption from a public animal control agency, shelter or rescue organization. It would also prevent sales and barters of these animals on the street, parking lots, flea markets, or other market except in those cases of adoption or as part of an agricultural fair or 4-H program. Any animal rescue, shelter or public pound would not be considered a pet shop.
The fine had been set a $500 but was reduced to $300 in line with state law relating to maximum fines by municipalities and language regarding "seizure" of animals was removed.
A number of people spoke in favor of the measure during hearing of visitors at Tuesday's City Council meeting, several of whom had also spoken at the General Government meetings.
Shrila Leslie Luppino of Pittsfield, which passed a similar ordinance last year, thanked Harpin for her support in bringing the ordinance forward. Luppino, a member of Berkshire Voters for Animals, said Massachusetts pet stores do source from puppy mills and that many of these breeders have licenses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"North Adams should adopt the humane pet store ordinance for several reasons and one is these ordinances protect consumers from a deceptive sales models. Pet stores often claim they obtain their animals from small-scale humane readers, but the reality is responsible breeders don't sell puppies to pet stores, because those breeders sell their dogs directly to the consumer," she said. "And second, pet shop ordinances are business friendly. This ordinance is intended to require pet stores to adhere to a humane business model, not to prevent or to put pet stores out of business. ... And then lastly, pet shop ordinances support responsible breeders."
Berkshire Humane Society Executive Director John Perrault also spoke in support of the measure, and said the society had received numerous calls and complaints when pet stores in Pittsfield were selling these animals on their conditions and medical issues.
"I think one thing to keep in mind that if you end up with a pet store in North Adams that is selling dogs, cats and rabbits, your animal control officer which is already much overworked will have an abundance of calls and spend much of her time dealing with this situation," he said. "So I encourage everybody to follow Pittsfield's lean on this particular one and certainly pass this ordinance."
Christa Abel, who had owned the city's only recent pet store, Bark 'N' Cat, said selling pets is an outdated model, noting her store was about pet services and items. She said the argument supporting sales has been about providing access to people to get pets "but actually it's really about profit and not about pets. It's treating pets as a commodity. ... pets are considered family members now."
"No one is entitled to have a pet. It's a huge commitment, responsibilities, and getting rid of the pet store selling the dog in the window is important," she said.
Harpin said she had a lot of notes on the ordinance to share with her fellow councilors "but our attendees pretty fluently and eloquently went through the whole process. And so I think it's a great ordinance. I did bring it to the City Council a few months back, because I think it is an important issue and a basic step forward in supporting animal rights."
Blackmer also acknowledged that the speakers had covered all the points and said the General Government Committee recommended the ordinance with the amendments to align with state law and to better define "pet store."
The ordinance was passed to a second reading and to be published unanimously with no debate.
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