When I popped onto the Colorado General Assembly’s website a few days ago, I noted one of the three most accessed bills highlighted on the page included “Requirements for Dog and Cat Breeders and Sellers” or, more lyrically, the Humane Pet Act.
Interest piqued, I clicked on the link and read the bill. Effectively, it would end the “puppy mill” and “kitten mill” industry in Colorado.
When I told my wife about it, she simply responded, “It’s about time.”
Two years ago, I wrote about California when it became the first state to take such legislative action. Several Colorado municipalities reviewed similar laws and ordinances, but finally the state has chosen to move forward with this overdue action.
Sponsored by Rep. Monica Duran and Sen. Mike Foote, the Humane Pet Act may owe the majority of its support to First Gentleman Marlon Reis who made championing the ethical care of animals his most visible public priority. Introduced before the state House last week, the bill has yet to have a hearing date set. When it does, I’m guessing that Reis will be prominent among the witnesses testifying.
Despite the heartstrings our furry, four-legged friends pull on, the bill may need every last bit of support Reis, Duran and Foote can muster. Due to the approach taken, it is sure to draw criticism from many, particularly pet stores and chains still selling dogs and cats.
Beyond simply changing the standard of care provided by breeders, the bill also aims to strangle the demand for high-volume mills by setting limitations on the sale of dogs and cats. Neither could be sold in public places or pet stores. Additionally, animal shelters and rescues would be barred from buying them from breeders, brokers and auctions.
Normally I oppose such restraint on markets and business. I am a small-government, individual rights-oriented conservative. But when markets operate so inefficiently to produce skewed outcomes, laws like this become necessary.
In particular, proper markets presuppose transparency and the free flow of information. Puppy and kitten mills continue to thrive because they operate in direct conflict with that principle.
The mills understand that the majority of would-be pet owners would be horrified by the practices they impose. Animals kept in wire-floor crates stacked atop each other. Inbreeding and overbreeding dogs without screening for health concerns. Forcing females to breed with every heat, ensuring they are perpetually pregnant and euthanizing those that can no longer produce offspring.
Those are only a few of the horrors cited by the Humane Pet Act’s legislative declaration, where its necessity is explained. Unusually long and detailed, it is not easy to read for anyone with a soft spot for animals.
For those who don’t, the consumer fraud perpetrated on the public should be enough justification to ending the mill industry. Outside of obtaining a cat or dog from small, ethical breeders, determining the lineage and subsequent risks can be daunting if not impossible for members of the public. That in turn leads to surprise medical bills and treatments that can cost many multiples of the original price paid.
To avoid these unpleasant truths, mills operate far from scrutiny and sell their animals without full disclosure to unsuspecting pet stores or directly to customers at flea markets and in parking lots. And simply outlawing their operation would only push their production centers across state lines.
Given those circumstances, it makes sense to cut off the distribution channels. By eliminating the means for mills to offload their animals, their demand will be decimated. And as the money dries up, Colorado will be closed to their business.
It may not be the most controversial or high-profile matter faced by the Colorado legislature this year, but the Humane Pet Act represents a long overdue step toward compassion. For anyone that has ever had a dog or cat, you know that’s a lesson we should have learned by now.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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