Should You Buy a Dog From a Pet Store? California Wants to Ban It

A Chihuahua awaits adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter on December 15, 2009, in Los Angeles. Chihuahuas make up about one-third of the dogs at many California shelters, so many that some shelters are shipping Chihuahuas to other states to find homes. A shelter in Oakland sent about 100 to Arizona, Oregon and Washington. Recently, a Los Angeles city shelter flew 25 Chihuahuas to Nashua, New Hampshire where all found homes within a day through the local Humane Society. Experts have blamed the glut of abandoned Chihuahuas in California on the influence of pop culture, a bad economy, puppy mills and backyard breeders. Fans sometimes abandon the dogs when they are no longer new and cute to them or when expensive vet bills start to add up. The tiny dogs are named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Animal advocates are rejoicing at the possibility that California Governor Jerry Brown may sign into law a bill that would make all cats, dogs, and rabbits at pet stores rescue-only.

The bill is now in the hands of the governor, as the senate has unanimously passed A.B. 485. The measure would prevent pet stores from selling cats, dogs, and rabbits that come from so-called animal mills (facilities that breed a high volume of animals and have often been accused of inhumane practices), or from private breeders of any sort. If someone wants to buy a pet from a breeder, they would have to contact the breeder directly.

The purpose of the bill is to encourage pet stores to move into the rescue business and to reduce the number of animals killed at shelters due to lack of space. According to a nonprofit called The No Kill Advocacy Center, about a third of animals that enter shelters in the United States don't make it out alive, but legislation and shelter reform steadily reduces that number.

Some pet stores, including PetCo and Petfood Express, have already moved away from selling cats, dogs, and rabbits bred for profit and instead donate space to rescues and host adoption events. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), 391 California pet stores have already pledged not to sell commercially raised puppies. Petsmart, which formerly sold puppies and kittens from breeders, moved to the rescue-only model and has adopted out more than 7.6 million animals, according to their adoption site.

The official stance held by HSUS is that anyone considering a new pet should consider adoption first. Many animal welfare advocates don't like breeders of any kind, while others accept responsible buying practices. HSUS states that in some cases, buying from a breeder is acceptable, but only if the premises are open for visiting and the buyer can also meet the parents of the prospective pet. These measures, although not a guarantee, go far toward indicating that the breeders were not cruel or irresponsible with the animals. With pet store purchases, tracking the origin of an animal for sale is impossible.

California is already one of the most progressive states when it comes to companion animal welfare. The Los Angeles City Council voted in 2016 to make permanent a ban on selling non-rescue cats, dogs, and rabbits that they had been testing for three years. Other cities and counties across the state and country have enacted similar bans. California also has one of the most comprehensive statutory animal shelter laws, which bans shelters from euthanizing animals when qualified rescues offer to take them. According to The No Kill Advocacy Center, that law has saved taxpayer money, as well as the lives of 46,000 animals a year. Facebook and Craigslist, which are based in the California Bay Area, also don't allow pet sales, according to their Terms of Service.

However, not everyone is thrilled with A.B. 485. The American Kennel Club, which hosts dog shows, enforces breed standards, and encourages purebred dog breeding, published a statement condemning the bill. The author calls advocates for A.B. 485 "anti-breeder animal rights extremists" and suggests that the bill is part of an ongoing effort to erode the ability of breeders to sell to the public at all.