Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, hoped to get a friendlier reception on Monday from the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee for her bill to ban pet stores from selling puppies and kittens than for the bill she sponsored a year earlier.
Testimony on House Bill 1102 went late into the evening, but after almost five hours of testimony, the bill was laid over until Thursday to allow sponsors to come up with a comprehensive amendment that could address many of the concerns raised.
Duran sponsored the version that got a thumbs-down from the same committee a year ago. The 2021 version drew many of the same arguments and amplified concerns about targeting small businesses during a pandemic.
The 2020 bill, which was drafted to specifically target puppy mills that import those animals to Colorado pet stores, would require stores to use state-licensed breeders, limit the number of litters per dog and ensure the animals are treated humanely. The 2021 version, according to Duran and co-sponsor Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, consumer protection was the primary focus. It would require pet stores to post the prices of the puppies and kittens, along with breeder information and the cost of financing, if desired.
“This bill addresses the consumer protection portion, period,” Duran said during the hearing. “Families deserve to plan ahead. Once your kid sees that puppy, all bets are off.”
The bill also requires that same information on pricing to be included on ads for puppies or kittens.
The animals are being sold sick, Soper claimed, adding that Colorado pet stores continue to source pets from out-of-state puppy mills where the animals have antibiotic-resistant diseases.
But a second section of the bill, plus the bill’s legislative declaration, was what drew the most condemnation: while existing pet stores could still sell puppies and kittens, no new pet stores would be given licenses to do so.
And that was what upset both the pet store owners and lawmakers opposed to the bill.
There are a dozen pet stores in Colorado licensed to sell puppies and kittens, and only nine that still regularly do so, all along the Front Range.
Amy Jesse, director of public policy for the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills Campaign testified that the bill is only about consumer protection. Pet stores can still sell puppies and kittens, she said.
Her claim was challenged repeatedly during a nearly hour-long grilling by committee members, including Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, whose strongest objections were over the bill’s legislative declaration.
That declaration begins by saying that “pet stores that sell puppies and kittens pose unique consumer protection issues, including misleading sales tactics, baseless health and behavior guarantees, and a lack of transparency about their breeders, the price of puppies and kittens, and financing interest rates.”
The bill adds that "Colorado pet stores import thousands of dogs from commercial breeders, some of whom have egregious animal welfare records."
Jesse testified that she’d visited pet stores in Denver and Colorado Springs and could verify that was true. But she acknowledged she hadn’t visited all nine, and could not state for certain if this was true everywhere.
“In this misleading language, all pet stores lack transparency about breeders; pet stores import thousands of dogs from commercial breeders” with questionable animal welfare practices — everyone is in the same bucket with this language, Holtorf said.
“I think we know that’s not true” and he blasted HSUS for not properly representing what’s happening in Colorado pet stores.
Jesse didn’t respond, other than to say that she hears complaints from Colorado consumers on a regular basis, although she didn’t identify any of the stores she claimed to get complaints on.
Holtorf said he’d be “110%” OK with the bill if it focused only on the consumer protection language, and stripped out the legislative declaration and the bill's attack on small business.
The bill is a part of the animal welfare agenda of first gentleman Marlon Reis, who also testified on the bill Monday and said the bill’s real purpose was to shut down pet stores and the puppy mills he alleged they buy animals from.
“This bill addresses a real problem we have in Colorado,” Reis said. “This bill focuses on the puppy mill enablers,” the pet stores in Colorado that he claimed imported 14,000 puppies in 2019 and 2020.
“This bill protects Coloradans from the vicious cycle of puppy mills selling dogs in pet stores” and is intended to drive consumers to licensed breeders and licensed animal shelters, Reis added.
Lesley Hollywood, who said her politics are usually right of center and usually opposed to more government, also supported the bill. Her parents founded Harley's Dream in Berthoud, dedicated to a senior chihuahua from a puppy mill who lost an eye from a power washer used to wash his cage. The cute puppy in the window has a mother and father who has lived a cruel existence, and the government's job is to protect the most innocent, she said. Responsible, reputable breeders don't sell to pet stores, she said.
But most of the testimony Monday came from those opposed to the bill, including most of the nine pet store owners and others from the dog industry.
The pet store owners testified that they hope to be able to sell their businesses down the road to family or employees, but because of the bill’s prohibition on new licenses, those new owners wouldn’t be able to get a license.
The bill would put 116 people out of jobs in Colorado and cost the state about $500,000 in sales tax revenue, said Karen Kines, the general manager of Pet City in Fort Collins, which sold 668 puppies in the past year.
Prices are never a secret, and they also share information on the breeders, many of whom she’s visited, Kines told the committee.
“This bill has made our business worth nothing” and of no value to family members or employees who might want to buy the business in the future. Committee chair Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said she had visited Pet City and found it exemplary.
Connie Kendall has owned Pet Paradise in Pueblo for 47 years, and is in the process of selling it to her employees. “This [bill] takes our entire retirement away from us,” she told the committee.
Renee Reese, who owns Pet Ranch in Thornton, said 65% of her animals go to people with disabilities or allergies. She’d like to sell — her health has precipitated the decision — adding that her entire life savings are tied up in the business.
Linda Hart, legislative director for the Colorado Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, also testified against the bill. The pet store industry, which she said she's watched for 30 years, have excelled in what they’re doing, such as for training and health care. The owners take pride in their facilities, she said. This bill resolves nothing for anyone. She also noted that they were never invited to participate in the bill’s drafting, either for the 2020 or 2021 bills.
“We are the experts in this state on these issues,” Hart said. She said the real problem is the proliferation of rescue organizations, some which have questionable backgrounds and documentation. Some bring in dogs that carry serious diseases that spread to people and livestock. The number of rescues have exploded to 270, compared to the nine pet stores targeted by the bill, Hart said.
The worst thing you can do is get rid of pet stores, said Brian Warren of Nebraska, who transports some of the dogs to Colorado. He said breeders sometimes don't want to sell directly to the public for safety reasons, including during the pandemic.
"I have to face these attacks every year," said Mike Morgan, owner of two Just Pets locations in Colorado. Sales of dogs and cats is 90% of his business, and he cannot compete on sales of pet supplies with Amazon, Chewy.com or other large box stores like WalMart and PetsMart, he said.
Getting rid of pet stores is not the solution, said Kim Roberts, who works in the industry and who adopted a dog from Pet City in Fort Collins in 2018. "I didn't ask for info on the dog I fell in love with." But Roberts said she was given a huge folder with all kinds of information, including the breeder and USDA number. Roberts said she was also grilled by the Pet City employee about how the dog would fit with her life and how she would care for the dog.
Her experience with a rescue dog was a very different story. She said she was told a "sob story" about the dog, that the dog would be put down. The dog bit her husband in the first week.
"This bill is about destroying the pet industry, not about the well-being of these animals or their health," she said.
Another told of online puppy sales scams. There were 238,000 claims of pet sales scams last year in the United States, with at least 50 in Colorado, according to KRDO and Attorney General Phil Weiser. The American Kennel Club said last year that 80% of online puppy sales are scams.
Not one person testified about problems they personally experienced from buying a puppy or kitten from a Colorado pet store.