By Andrea Cordle
People packed into Grove City Hall on Feb. 1 for one reason – to hear council’s decision on a plan to restrict the sale of companion animals in the city.
After three hours of emotional testimony from dozens of speakers, council decided to withdraw the legislation, with the promise of an upcoming ordinance.
“It’s going to take time to do this right,” said councilman Ted Berry.
Berry, along with councilwoman Laura Lanese, introduced the legislation to restrict the commercial sale of companion animals after council approved a special use permit for Petland. The permit was approved in December, with a majority vote, and it would allow the retail store to sell animals, including puppies. The company plans to locate a store at 2740-2744 Groveport Road.
People came from different states to share their concerns about the issue at hand – which is where does Petland get the puppies they sell? Representatives from the Humane Society of the United States, based out of Washington D.C., even attended the meeting.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, almost all puppies sold at retail pet stores come from puppy mills or puppy farms. Most use a middleman, or dog broker.
A puppy mill is generally known as a commercial dog breeding facility operated with the emphasis on profits over the welfare of the animals. Ohio law defines a high-volume breeder as any establishment that houses breeding dogs who produce at least nine litters in any calendar year.
Amy Jesse, from the Humane Society, estimated that millions of puppies come from high-volume breeders each year and Petland helps to keep those operations in business by selling the dogs.
“We are strongly opposed to the retail sale of dogs,” said Jesse. “We prefer a shelter-only or rescue-only model.”
Jesse also said most reputable breeders would not sell their puppies to a pet store.
Laura Bloom, who lives and works in Grove City, said she volunteers with rescue groups and sees first-hand what a puppy mill does to a dog. She said she helped to rescue a female dog who, despite severe allergies that went untreated, kept producing litters. Once the dog could no longer reproduce, she was dropped off at a shelter. A rescue group got her and had to fund many medical issues.
“Grove City does not need to contribute to this problem,” said Bloom.
Joe Watson, president of Petland, said his company is not part of the problem – it is part of the solution.
“Petland has an extensive adoption program that helps many dogs find homes,” he said.
Watson said dogs come from two sources, regulated and unregulated. He said Petland only works with regulated breeders and distributors who are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Petland supports responsible, regulated breeders,” he said.
Many argue that USDA standards are fairly lax.
According to the USDA, facilities that breed and sell animals to brokers are required to obtain a license from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. Inspectors from its animal care program then conduct unannounced visits.
The regulations and standards cover areas such as housing, sanitation, food, water and protection against extreme weather. Breeders and dealers must also employ a veterinarian, or contract with one.
Lanese said these USDA approved breeders must allow enough space in the crate for the dog to turn around, but there is nothing that says the dog must be able to leave that crate and play in the grass or socialize with other dogs.
“We need to take a stand locally,” said Lanese.
Watson said most community members support Petland.
“The general public supports us, the activists never will.”
Hope Gregory, from Heath, Ohio, said she is a manager at Petland and feels company employees are being unfairly portrayed.
“I love my job. I love seeing the joy on a kid’s face when they get to take home a puppy. I am not a monster for working at Petland,” she said.
Anthony Samples, vice president of corporate stores for Petland, shared his frustration with council, saying the company complied with all the city’s requirements to locate a store in the area. The company has leased the location and is in the process of getting ready to open this spring.
Ed Fleming and Shawn Conrad, with the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, said they stand behind Petland.
“This tells businesses ‘we are not business friendly,’” said Fleming.
Lanese responded and said council does not want to deter business.
“We are not closing the opportunity for the store,” she said. “They can sell supplies and animals from rescue groups.”
Some Grove City leaders believe this is not an issue for Grove City to decide.
“This is a state problem,” said Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage. “Grove City is not going to solve this problem.”
Councilman Steve Bennett agreed.
“This ordinance does nothing to address puppy mills,” he said. “This is a state and federal issue.”
Berry said the legislation is not aimed at Petland, but it is a federal and state issue that affects local municipalities.
“We want to make sure puppies out of high-volume breeders do not make it to Grove City for sale,” said Berry.
Berry said council would work on new legislation to limit the sale of companion animals.