Councilman proposes ordinance ending ‘puppy mill’ practices in Aurora

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AURORA | It’s a problem that has dogged the city for ages. And now, Aurora Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson said he would like to end the practice of puppy mill animals being sold to Aurora pet stores. 

The proposed ordinance, which Richardson said is meant to prohibit the sale of dogs and cats from large scale breeders or “puppy mills” in pet shops in Aurora, would limit where pet shops or dealers could purchase a cat or dog to sell in Aurora. 

Under the ordinance, a shop or dealer could only purchase a cat or dog from an animal shelter, a private nonprofit humane society or a nonprofit animal rescue. These sources would themselves be allowed to sell cats and dogs in the city. A pet store associated with one of the above organizations would also be allowed to sell cats and dogs, and individuals who breed and sell dogs on their premises would also be exempt from the ordinance, as the draft reads now.

Richardson said he was inspired to do something locally after reading Kim Kavin’s book “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers.” In the book, Kavin investigates everything from hobby breeders to shelters to the billion-dollar pure-breed industry the she says fuels the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Pets from puppy and kitten mills are kept in crowded, unsanitary kennels and many don’t have adequate access to veterinary care, food or water, animal advocates say.

“I’m trying to drive people to adoption. That’s my ultimate goal,” Richardson said. “I’m hoping to drive out of business those puppy mills that don’t provide exercise areas, that don’t provide access to outdoors, that don’t provide large enough enclosures.”

Richardson himself notes both of his Chihuahuas are adopted from the Aurora Animal Shelter.

The state already regulates all commercial and nonprofit pet sellers through the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Pet Animal Care Facilities Act, or PACFA. The department requires a license for anyone in the state operating a pet facility where the owner is keeping pet animals for the purpose of adoption, breeding, boarding, grooming, handling, selling, sheltering or trading them. The state annually inspects all licensed pet animal facilities and maintains records for the state’s PACFA facilities. Colorado has more than 150 licensed, large-scale breeding facilities, which are regulated by the state’s department of agriculture.

Aurora has only one commercial pet store in city limits, Pet City Pet Shops at the Aurora Mall, and it’s regularly inspected by PACFA. The store is part of a Colorado chain with two other locations in Colorado Springs.

A July 2016 PACFA inspection of the Aurora store showed it as “non-compliant,” meaning  an issue was found at the last inspection and has possibly not been corrected yet. The details of that non-compliance are not known.

Pet City owners did not respond to several calls and emails regarding the proposed Aurora ordinance and PACFA notices. An employee at the Town Center of Aurora mall confirmed with the Aurora Sentinel that their animals come from large and small certified USDA licensed breeders located all over the country.

Aurora Animal Care Manager Jenee Shipman said the city has not seen an increase in dogs and cats coming from large-scale breeders, but that sometimes it is hard to tell where animals come from because the Aurora Animal Shelter accepts any animal a visitor brings in and must rely on them as a trusted source.

“Looking at the source, we’re looking at animals coming in from shelters, friends and Craigslist,” Shipman said.

A few years ago, Craigslist banned selling animals on its site in response to it becoming the top place for people to steal and resell pets. But critics say criminals still get around that law because the site continues to allow pets to be advertised for adoption with a “re-homing” fee.

Meanwhile, statewide, the issue of too many animals coming into Colorado has proven problematic in recent years.

In 2014, more than 24,000 animals were imported into the state by animal shelters and rescue organizations; in 2015, more than 32,000 were imported into the state, according to PACFA.

They said that many of these animals are transported into the state and adopted out with diseases such as parasites, heart worm and mange.

PACFA said complaints have increased by 200 percent in recent years as a result of more sick animals being transported to rescues and animal shelters in the state.

Only one other city in Colorado has passed a puppy mill-related law. In 2011, Fountain City Council members passed a ban on the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores and public places.

Aurora City staff are helping Richardson draft his ordinance based on one that was passed recently by city council members in Phoenix. That ordinance restricted pet stores from selling dogs or cats from commercial breeders, but was ultimately nixed months later by Arizona’s governor, who signed a counter bill giving the state — and not cities — power to regulate pet stores.

Members of Aurora City Council’s Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment Committee agreed at an August meeting that the measure should move forward to a September City Council study session.

At-large Councilwoman Angela Lawson, a member of the committee, said she is an animal lover, which is why she supported the measure going forward, but is not yet convinced there is a puppy mill problem in Aurora needing legislation.

Katrina Boldry, who has been designing custom leashes and accessories since 2008 out of her small Aurora warehouse space called Bold Lead Designs, said she agrees with Richardson that in today’s pet industry no responsible breeder sells their puppies to a retailer for sale to the general, unscreened public.

“In my specialized sector of the pet industry, my client’s tend to be more well-educated pet owners who are concerned about animal welfare and are unlikely to purchase an animal in a retail setting,” Boldry said.

Where the issue gets tricky is that there is no agreed-upon legal definition for a puppy mill. Certain courts have defined them as “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”

Shipman said Richardson’s ordinance is in its infancy and that it would need much more defining before it could be a functioning law on Aurora’s books, and Richardson agreed. The issue is scheduled to be heard at a Sept. 26 Aurora City Council study session.

Nationwide, pet stores all fall under the Animal Welfare Act, which protects dogs, cats, monkeys (nonhuman primate mammals), guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. The act consists of standards all states must follow to promote humane treatment of animals, and bans practices such as live animal fighting. It also prohibits research facilities from purchasing dogs or cats from unlicensed dealers or exhibitors.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.