A bill to stop puppy and kitten mills died Monday to shelter pet stores.
House Bill 1084 originally would have blocked pet stores from selling dogs and cats. While that was amended out, the legislation still had teeth: requiring stores to use state-licensed breeders, limiting the number of litters per dog and ensuring those animals are treated humanely.
In the end, it wasn't enough. The bill died on a 6-5 vote before the House Rural Affairs Committee, with Democrats Reps. Bri Buentello of Pueblo and Donald Valdez of La Jara voting with Republicans to can the bill. Lawmakers asked for more work to weed out bad breeders and good ones who supply small businesses that sell pets.
Proponents in the hearing that last hours described pet stores as the "pipeline" for mass breeding operations.
Rep. Monica Duran, D-Denver, said the choice to amend the bill to exclude pet stores was tough, but she didn't want to lose the improvements she thought she could get, from veterinarians, dog breeders and legislators sympathetic to pet store owners.
"I'm disappointed and heartbroken at what we had to give up," she said before the losing vote.
Duran said she would continue to push to end puppy and kitten mills.
She said more than 4,000 puppies were sold in pet stores in Colorado last year, "and some came from breeders with hundreds of dogs and a long list of egregious animal welfare violations."
The bill doesn't affect hobby breeders or others who don't need a state license now. It also doesn't apply to service animals, livestock or dogs used in hunting. Exemptions for county fairs and educational events were carved out of a ban on outdoor sales.
Pet store owners and employees said abusive breeders do not represent the industry, whose operators stake their licenses on operating reputably, and whether they're being pushed out by animal welfare groups to make way for "retail rescue" operations that turn a profit.
Pet store owners told the committee that drastically amending the operations of licensed, taxpaying, small businesses would only drive up the prices of pets and steer determined customers to unlicensed and out-of-state suppliers, decreasing both the quality and quantity of pets.
Animal rights advocates urged the committee to protect animals in breeding operations by toughening up state laws, including cutting off the high-volume breeding operations that supply pet stores.
Aubyn Royall, an attorney and state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said the decision to amend the bill to take out the ban on pet store sales was not made lightly.
"This bill, as amended, demonstrates our willingness to compromise on even the most essential provisions in an attempt to move the needle in the right direction for dogs living in puppy mills," she said.
Mike Morgan, owner of Just Pets in Lone Tree and Centennial, recounted the taxes he pays to state and local governments. He said limiting breeders to 25 dogs is counterintuitive.
Professional breeders have full-time staff tending the animals, including veterinary care, where those with fewer than 25 are probably part-time breeders with other jobs.
"I've had breeders with less than 25 dogs, but I don't have them anymore because their quality was not there," Morgan said. "... The 25-dog limit is a backdoor pet-store ban, that's all it is."
Dr. Jackie Christakos, president-elect of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, said her organization supports the overall intent of healthier dogs from good breeders, but thinks more work and more science needs to be put into the bill.
The CVMA opposed the bill. Christakos said the bill's limit of 25 cats or dogs per breeding facility doesn't address quality of care by focusing on quantity of animals. She pointed to provisions that aren't based in science or veterinary medicine, including limiting the number of litters, having a veterinarian to determine if an animal could have healthy offspring and making euthanasia the vet's call.
"CVMA is very much in favor of healthy breeding practices, but we cannot support this bill as drafted or with the proposed amendments we have seen," Christakos said. "We recommend postponing this bill and engaging stakeholders in order to make (shelter standards) more effective for the citizens and animals of Colorado."