Animal welfare groups see the worst of humanity while saving pets: dogs crammed into cages, going long periods without outdoor exercise, and suffering from conditions that could be treated by routine veterinary care.
Such unforgivable mistreatment can occur with some pet breeders. Operations that are egregiously neglectful to animals are often called “puppy mills.” Between April 2019 and October, the city’s Animal Care Services investigated at least 522 pet sale cases involving puppy mills, resulting in 266 citations.
“Puppy mill organizations are inhumane,” Heber Lefgren, the director of Animal Care Services, told the San Antonio City Council at a recent meeting.
Puppy mill puppies are often crowded together in filthy cages for days before they reach a pet store. Because their immune systems are not fully developed, many arrive dehydrated and infected with respiratory illnesses or parasites, the Humane Society of the United States recently wrote in these pages.
On Thursday, in a 9-1 vote, the City Council approved a measure that bans pet stores from selling cats and dogs provided by breeders, starting Jan. 1. Instead, all pet shops within city limits would get cats and dogs from a rescue organization, an animal control agency or a county shelter. All animals would have to be microchipped, spayed or neutered and given standard immunizations before they’re sold.
Another proposal raises minimum fines for pet sale violations from $100 to $500 for first-time offenses. Some breeders who sell in illegal locations — often the side of the road or flea markets — consider the $100 fine the price of doing business, so a bigger fine would discourage that behavior, Lefgren said.
We thank the City Council for supporting Animal Care Services as it stays innovative with its policies while managing the giant task of promoting the well-being of pets in the nation’s seventh-largest city.
On ExpressNews.com: San Antonio pet stores will sell only rescue dogs and cats starting Jan. 1
We also applaud local pet stores that were early adopters for selling only rescued cats and dogs, as Express-News journalist Liz Hardaway reported. Some operations voluntarily switched to selling rescue pets — and have said it’s been a win-win. Polly’s Pet Shop in Universal City, which made the change in 2013, has found homes for about 1,000 puppies from ACS.
San Antonians also deserve a little pat on the back: When Animal Care Services conducted a survey last year, 80 percent of residents favored a ban on breeders selling to pet stores.
The ban moves society further from its decades-long loose concept of pet care, when many households thought leaving a pet outside 24/7 and letting it subsist on table scraps was sufficient. Just last year, Animal Care Services rescued 29 animals — 18 dogs, six cats, two turtles, a tortoise, a rooster and a hen — that were deprived of water at a home. That was just one call the organization fielded on a given day.
One pet store owner cautioned the City Council that the ban would drive irresponsible breeders underground. It’s a valid point — but that doesn’t mean the policy is wrong. Let’s hope the ban prompts San Antonians to start shifting their motivation for pet ownership from one of luxury to purpose. We could use a lot more of that. For at least four years, the Bulverde Area Humane Society nurtured a lovable Saint Bernard mix — Bernie — who was abandoned and tethered outside a vet’s office. No takers came forward during that time because of the pupster’s size.
Thursday’s City Council vote moves us closer to a community that won’t forget dogs like Bernie.
“I think we’re on the right track,” District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said recently. “They’re going to put us on a path to being a more humane community when it comes to pet welfare.”
We appreciate this assessment from Sandoval, as well as the City Council’s approval of the two animal welfare proposals.