Bree Maestas

Bree Maestas

Selling pets is my family’s business, going back generations. My great-grandpa opened our family’s first pet store, “Capitol Hill Puppies,” back in 1918, right across the street from the State Capitol Building in Denver. My dad opened our current store in 1970, and my husband and I had hoped to pass it along to our daughters. A bill currently working its way through the General Assembly, House Bill 1102, would keep us from doing that, and effectively kill our multi-generational business.

HB1102, while ostensibly directed toward “consumer protection,” will force the eventual closure of any pet store that sells dogs and cats to prospective new pet owners. Unlike a bill last year which would do so directly and immediately, this year’s effort is a more subtle, longer-term play, but will have the same ultimate result — the elimination by the state of businesses like ours. HB1102 devalues our businesses over time by capping the number of licenses available, and — fatally — prohibits current business owners from moving, selling, or transferring their businesses, even to our own family.

This means, for instance, that if we had to move our store location — whether due to financial reasons such as rising rents, or the closure of the parent building housing the store, or to simply relocate to a better, more accessible location – we would not be able get a license for that new location, effectively killing the business. Even worse, this bill prevents us from selling the business we spent our lives investing in when it comes time to retire, or even from passing it along to our children.

This puts every pet business in the state under a looming death sentence. To add insult to injury, the bill as written completely devalues our life’s work, passion, and investment. By making it impossible to sell, by prohibiting new licensure, this bill reduces the value of the business we, and others like us, have worked our entire lives to build, to virtually nothing. There is no financial value left to a business for which one cannot receive the license to operate. The state could hardly come up with a more grievous manner in which to eradicate retirement savings and the American Dream for a select group of individuals.

This is being done without solving any problem. It is unclear at best what problem the bill even intends to address. The “consumer protection” elements, added on as top-dressing, simply outline things our industry already does — pet stores in Colorado provide full financial disclosures, make pricing and financing options wholly transparent, and we work closely and extensively with prospective pet parents to make sure that their new family member will be a good fit.

If the aim is somehow to improve animal protections, the bill again widely misses the mark. Pet stores like ours are the most transparent, safe, and accountable way in which to bring a new animal companion into one’s life. We are regulated closely and appropriately under the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) and are inspected regularly; the state, our customers, and our own deep love for the animals in our care holds us to the highest standards. We visit our breeders regularly, in part to hold them accountable as well, and so that we can provide our customers with the most accurate and detailed information about the dog or cat they are considering purchasing. We have worked for decades to expose, marginalize, and eradicate any cruel, irresponsible breeders from our supply chains. All that regulating pet stores out of existence will accomplish is to re-establish these despicable bad actors by driving the supply chain underground. That is the absolute last thing that anyone who loves animals as much as we do wants to see.

It is unconscionable how responsible pet store owners, workers, and volunteers, all of whom love animals deeply and put their care and well-being before their own, have been castigated by deep-pocketed special-interest groups with obscure and ulterior motives. We urge legislators to look to science, evidence, and reality, rather than to well-funded emotional appeals by zealots and fringe groups whose aims are fanatical, not grounded, and certainly not in the best interest of the animals they claim to be concerned about.

My dad always used to say that if we just kept running a good business, took good care of our animals, and kept doing things right, the fringe activists would leave us alone; my uncle was more pessimistic, and thought that one day the activists would have the money and organization to shut us down no matter how well we did our jobs. There is an opportunity to fix this bill with common sense amendments that safeguard both responsible pet stores and prospective pet parents. We hope they will do so, and strive to identify and fix the real problems, rather than annihilate responsible and devoted small businesses that are part of the solution. We hope they will help prove my dad right.

Bree Maestas is the second-generation owner of Pet City Pet Shops in Colorado Springs.

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