New state law ends retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits

Bella’s Act, which completely prohibits the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in California, took effect on Jan. 1. The legislation aims to end the practice of selling animals who have been bred and raised in unhealthy, inhumane conditions in out-of-state puppy mills.

San Diego Humane Society sponsored AB 2152, written by California State Assembly member Todd Gloria, now mayor of San Diego, to crack down on the illicit and inhumane puppy mill industry that supplies pet stores in our state. The animals are raised in deplorable conditions and are often unhealthy, leading to heartbreaking discoveries once in homes, according to Humane Society officials.

Bella’s Act was named for Bella, a Corgi who was bred in one of these puppy mills, the Humane Society stated. Bella was advertised as a rescue dog in a San Diego pet store and sold for thousands of dollars — this was billed as her “adoption fee.” During this experience, Bella was declawed and developed a severe case of bronchitis. It cost her owner thousands of dollars in prolonged veterinary care to get her healthy.

Ramona’s The Rescued Pup owner Michelle Robertson-Clark, who adopts out mostly puppies but occasionally cats, rabbits and turkeys, said the new law will help prevent deceptive retail sales of dogs, cats and rabbits by setting a $500 limit on the price of these pets.

Robertson-Clark said puppy mills were circumventing the previous law, AB 485, by creating fake rescues to sell their dogs to pet stores. She said the puppy mills would gain status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and turn over their pets to retailers, who could then sell them at whatever price they wanted.

“Under 485, people would get dogs from a nonprofit and then sell them for whatever price they wanted,” Robertson-Clark said. “Puppy mills called themselves rescues and that was how they created a loophole.”

Robertson-Clark said she suspects retailers will find another loophole because the law is hitting their pocketbooks.

“Retailers have costs, but they’re making money and they’re not taking care of the animals,” she said. “There’s a lot of amazing dogs out there that need homes. If someone wants a purebred dog, they should go to a reputable breeder that offers a health guarantee.”

Bella’s Act officially closes the loophole in AB 485, which took effect in January 2019 and made progress, but allowed those seeking to continue to profit from imported mill-bred animals to circumvent the intent of the law, officials said. These store owners exploited a provision in the law that allowed them to sell dogs, cats and rabbits if they entered into a cooperative agreement with a shelter or rescue organization by partnering with insincere “rescues” or unsuspecting shelters.

San Diego Humane Society’s Humane Law Enforcement officers ended up citing several stores for various violations including improper signage and not having a valid cooperative agreement, officials said.

“With Bella’s Act going into effect, we’ll be able to end the inhumane retail sales of dogs, cats and rabbits in California once and for all,” said San Diego Humane Society Chief of Humane Law Enforcement Bill Ganley. “Pet stores will still be allowed to provide space for shelter or rescue animals and adopt them out, as long as they are sterilized and the adoption fee does not exceed $500. It is a win-win. We’ll help animals in shelters who need homes, while stopping the inhumane supply of mill-bred animals.”

The ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, the California Animal Welfare Association, Humane Society of the United States, San Francisco SPCA and Companion Animal Protection Society also supported Bella’s Act.

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