Editorial: A Houston pet store relies on inhumanely sourced puppies. Can Texas law stop them?
Mention the name Jared Patterson, the Republican state representative from Frisco, and a dog’s well-being does not immediately Jack Russell to mind. The third-term lawmaker is most often associated with some of the more extreme proposals that occupy the time and attention of hyper-conservative members of the GOP – replacing Austin’s municipal government with a District of Austin to be ruled by the Legislature, banning children from drag shows and “rooting out sexually explicit books” from Texas schools.
And yet, here’s Patterson, for the second session in a row, sponsoring important legislation that would crack down on pet stores relying on out-of-state puppy mills that breed large numbers of animals under deplorable conditions. These animals, often sick and deprived of preventive veterinary care, are transported to Texas to be sold to unsuspecting customers willing to pay thousands of dollars for a pure-bred pup. Patterson’s House Bill 870 would prevent stores in counties with more than 200,000 residents from selling animals obtained anywhere other than an animal control agency, a shelter or animal rescue organization. Twenty-four Texas counties, including Harris, would be covered.
Although Patterson-sponsored bills often end up orphaned and friendless, this one deserves quick passage. An identical bill he introduced in 2021 passed both the House and Senate, but lawmakers adjourned before minor differences could be reconciled. With bipartisan support again this time, its success would seem to be assured, except for the fact that any operation relying on commercially bred dogs has had time (and campaign donations) to mount a counter-offensive.
One company in particular – a company with a Frisco outlet – piqued the lawmaker’s interest. It’s called Petland. The Humane Society of the United States alleges that the Ohio-based operation relies on puppy mills for the animals it sells. A puppy mill – or kitten mill – is defined as a mass-breeding operation that keeps mother dogs or cats confined to cramped cages while they breed one litter after another their entire lives.
Petland was the company that caught Patterson’s eye, but it’s not the only one operating in Texas that allegedly relies on a puppy-mill pipeline. According to Shelby Bobosky, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, offending outlets in Texas include Puppy Dreams in Garland, Arlington and Sherman; Puppyland in San Marcos; Find-a-Pet and Pets-R-Us in Garland; and Pick a Pet in San Marcos. Petland has stores in Webster, The Woodlands, Katy and Houston.
Bobosky told the Chronicle editorial board that Petland is the only one of the nation’s 25 largest retailers still relying on a pipeline of commercially bred dogs as a business model. Petco, PetSmart and other large pet-store chains that sell live animals obtain them from rescue agencies and shelters. “Humane sourcing,” it’s called.
Petland came to Patterson’s attention after the Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation in 2019, with support from a Frisco animal welfare group. The investigation revealed that many of the puppies at Petland’s Frisco location were sick, malnourished or underweight, conditions not unusual for animals provided by puppy mills. Although Petland disputed every claim of the 2019 investigation, telling the Dallas Morning News it was propaganda driven by political motives, the Frisco City Council responded by strengthening ordinances related to pet stores.
“An estimated 2 million puppies sold annually across the U.S. originate from puppy mills while 2-3 million puppies and cats are euthanized by pet shelters every year,” Patterson noted in a statement when he introduced his original bill. “Commercially bred dogs often live in horrendous conditions and suffer from an array of illnesses, often unknown to the consumer. Although 24 out of the 25 top pet stores already adhere to the humane model, Texas must enforce a minimum standard so that new pet owners can rest assured knowing that their dog or cat was raised and treated with care.”
Houston, Dallas and New Braunfels have recently passed ordinances similar to HB 870. Patterson’s proposal would not preempt local measures but would bring consistency to the state’s largest counties, which are primarily urban and suburban.
In Houston, Petland continues to sell commercially bred puppies even though the ordinance has been in effect for over a month. BARC, the city’s animal shelter and adoptions agency, has issued Class C misdemeanor citations to Petland Bellaire located in the city of Houston on several occasions, but as Cory Stottlemyer, the agency’s deputy shelter director, told the editorial board, BARC’s priority will continue to be getting aggressive and dangerous dogs off the street. BARC doesn’t have the resources, Stottlemyer said, to be anything but reactive to alleged puppy-mill operations in the city. Petland has not responded to repeated inquiries from the board.
City council member Sallie Alcorn told the board, “I do hope we find a way, whether it is through lifting a certificate of occupancy or whatever we have to do, to stop this practice.” We agree. An effective enforcement mechanism is needed. In addition to enforcement, Houstonians themselves, particularly our city’s dog lovers, have to step up. That means either making rescue animals the primary source for pets or doing the research to make sure they’re dealing with responsible pure-bred breeders. “If you want a pure-bred hunting dog, if you want a pure-bred labradoodle, responsible pure-bred breeders are available to the public,” Tena Lundquist Faust, co-president of the nonprofit animal-rescue group PetSet, told the editorial board. “They want healthy animals in the system. People that are breeding for just pure profit are kind of ruining it for the people who are doing it because they love a breed or because they want to produce really healthy, good animals.”
The late poet Mary Oliver, watching her dog Ben “running along the edge of the water, into the first pink suggestion of sunrise,” marveled at his “joyfulness.” In a small book called “Dog Songs,” she asked: “What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”
State Rep. Jared Patterson’s bill is a call for responsible pet ownership (as is Houston’s new city ordinance).
It’s also a legislative ode to joy.
A dog’s joy and ours.
The Editorial Board. (2023, Feb. 22). Houston banned puppy mill sales. One pet store doesn't care. [Editorial]. Houston Chronicle. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/bellaire-pet-store-inhumane-puppies-17799301.php
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