THLN Featured in North Texas Daily

Originally Published in: North Texas Daily
Published on:
March 26, 2024
Written By: Brendan Schilling

In April 2023, the Denton Record Chronicle reported that more than 100 people are waiting to surrender their big dogs to the Denton City Animal Shelter. Adoption fees cost between 10 and 60 dollars, a cheaper alternative than buying an animal from a pet store — which can cost thousands. People take out loans in order to buy pets, with predatory interest rates up to 189 percent. If an animal dies from diseases acquired from the mills or during transport, the owner is still expected to pay off the loan. 

Denton must ban the sale of commercial animals and only allow for the adoption of rescues and strays. Cities all across Texas have passed similar ordinances. These include Dallas, Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, The Colony and Waco, reported by CultureMap Dallas in April 2022. 

The majority of pet store animals come from puppy and kitten mills, which mass breed 50-1,000 domesticated animals, living under inhumane conditions. They live amongst their own urine and feces, slipping through cage floors and falling on animals below, which increases the risk of exposure to ammonia. Offspring often die during transport and survivors wind up with diseases which are costly to treat.

The main obstacle banning the sale of commercially bred pets is House Bill 2127, known as the “Death Star” law by its opponents. It prevents cities from passing their own regulations on “agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations and property.” Texas also added an amendment which prohibits cities from targeting pet stores. 

When the bill passed, Houston sued Texas, saying the law violated the “home rule” amendment of Texas’ Constitution, which was was added in 1912. They argued that while the state has traditionally had power to overturn individual ordinances, this law completely removes city control.

The bill was originally designed by the state GOP to target “Democrat-run cities such as Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.” However, conservative cities like Arlington, Denton, Plano and Waco later filed a letter supporting Houston’s lawsuit, according to Texas Monthly in November 2023. 

In 2023, Texas House Representative Jarod Patterson proposed a state law, HB 1818. It is identical to a law passed in 2021. This law would prevent the sale of animals from anywhere except for animal rescue agencies, shelters or licensed breeders. The bill never left the House of Representatives.

Even if Patterson's proposal had been considered, there are several roadblocks.

First, the “Death Star” law still needs to be overturned. Animal management is run by cities, not states. 

Second, it is not enough to switch to “licensed breeders.” The main protection for pet animals comes from the Animal Welfare Act, under the purview of the USDA. These regulations are minimal and barely enforced. Under these, mothers still live in cages barely bigger than their bodies. They are denied social contact, kept perpetually pregnant and dumped when their uterus’ shrivel.

The only added layer of protection are local, city and state laws. Dallas’ ordinance has a provision requiring breeders to vaccinate animals four months and older. They also allow sale from “registered breeders.”

State law in Texas only requires a breeding license if you breed 11 or more animals, or sell more than 20. 

The Texas Humane Network demonstrates that getting a breeding license is fairly simple, filling out one application. If the breeder owns 11 to 25 animals, they pay a fee of $300. If they own over 26 they pay $500. 

At bare minimum there needs to be stricter requirements to obtain a license, and better enforcement of the state laws. 

Some policy improvements suggested by Texas Humane Legislation Network include doubling the size of dog cages, not keeping dogs outside in temperatures colder than 50 degrees and hotter than 90, not allowing cage floors to be made of wire, and not allowing dog cages to be stacked on top of each other.

Due to the “Death Star” law, city officials sit on their hands and claim there is nothing they can do. They have passed responsibility to the state. But politics are infinitely complicated while bureaucrats are capable of passing off responsibility forever.

The local government is capable of managing the city if they are motivated. While stores cannot be targeted, mills can be. Yet due to a lack of inspectors, people are forced to rely on citizen reports to initiate inspections. This could be fixed by providing additional funding and making this issue a priority. 

The state government needs to hear complaining from city officials, and right now city officials are not motivated to complain. A statewide ban on commercially bred animals would be good too, but at the end of the day, all politics are local. Cities know what’s best for themselves, and ideally, they should minimize intervention from larger entities as much as possible. 


Illustration by Macy Kanekkeberg

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