Petland Inc. files complaint against city and council


By Andrea Cordle
Southwest Editor

According to attorneys for Petland Inc., the city of Grove City has eliminated Petland’s ability to sell puppies and kittens.

Petland claims the city’s new legislation restricting the sale of companion animals has not only eliminated the company’s business model, but its viability in the Grove City location.

With a 4-1 vote, council approved the pet sale restriction ordinance on March 7. On March 23, Petland Inc. filed a complaint against the city of Grove City and its council members.

Robert Cohen, an attorney representing the company, said Petland complied with city code. The company applied for a special use permit to sell animals. Cohen said officials were up front about their business model. Council approved the special use permit with a majority vote late last year.

“Now, council has reversed course and we don’t think that is fair,” said Cohen.

Councilman Ted Berry voted against the special use permit. Councilwoman Laura Lanese was absent from that meeting. Both Berry and Lanese sponsored the pet sale restriction legislation.

The city’s new law says that a pet store shall only offer for sale those dogs and cats that the pet store has obtained from an animal rescue, shelter or humane society. It also says a retail pet store shall not offer for sale a dog or cat younger than 8 weeks old. The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage considered a veto of the legislation. He did not sign the ordinance, but he did not veto it.

Stage said since the law does not go into effect until January, he was optimistic that the city, and its chamber of commerce, could work with Petland in that time to find a compromise.

Stage also wanted to create a committee that would review the legislation and its enforcement. With Petland’s legal complaint, that may be on hold.

“We are going to play it by ear,” said Stage. “We are not going to make a decision until the legal matters play out.”

Stage said he could not comment further on the law suit.

Stephen Smith, law director for the city of Grove City said, “I do not comment on any pending legal matters.”

The sponsors of the legislation, Berry and Lanese also said they could not comment on the complaint.

The legislation on companion animals aims to help prevent inhumane breeding conditions and promote community awareness of animal welfare.

Many retail pet outlets obtain their pure breed puppies and kittens from high volume breeders, also called puppy mills. Petland maintains that they only work with United States Department of Agriculture approved breeders.

According to the complaint, the average Petland store gets more than 50 percent of its revenue from the sale of puppies.

The complaint says, “The discussion in Grove City council meetings leading up to the passage of ordinance C-17-16 made it clear that the intention of the ordinance was to eliminate Petland’s ability to purchase puppies from USDA licensed breeders and distributors – the very source of puppies that Petland identified to council in response to council’s questioning regarding Petland’s special use permit.”

The complaint goes on to say that Petland cannot profitably operate its Grove City store in compliance with the new legislation.

Several other retail pet stores are located in Grove City. None sell companion animals for profit, but they do offer space for rescue groups to showcase animals in need of a home.

Petland officials said they planned to set aside a portion of its kennel space in Grove City for shelter or rescue animals.

The legal complaint says, “Petland’s effort to place such animals is typically a humane gesture made possible by the profitable operation of the store in question. Petland’s business model does not permit most of its pet stores to profitably operate without selling purebred and designer breed puppies that the consumer market desires.”

Petland Inc. is seeking an injunction to keep Grove City from enforcing the ordinance. Petland also wants the ordinance declared unlawful and unconstitutional.

Cohen said Petland will seek damages, but he said they do not have a determined amount now.

According to Cohen, this is the first time Petland Inc. has filed a suit against a municipality over pet sale restrictions.

However, several Petland franchises were involved in legal action against government.

Two Petland franchises, another pet retail outlet and the Missouri Pet Breeder’s Association filed legal action against Cook County, Ill. after the county commissioners approved legislation prohibiting the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores. This law also said pet stores could only sell companion animals obtained from rescue organizations or animal control centers operated by local, state or federal government.

Chicago is located in Cook County.

The legislation was enacted in April of 2014 and was effective in October 2014.

The suit aimed to overturn the law and block its enforcement.

According to the Cook County State’s Attorney, a federal judge dismissed the complaint in May of 2015 saying Cook County had the home rule authority to regulate animal breeding and sales.

A Petland franchise reportedly threatened a law suit after Deerfield Beach, Fla. passed similar legislation.

In most cases, the federal courts have upheld pet sale ordinances.

Cohen said Petland Inc. is asking for an expedited court schedule, since the Grove City law takes effect in less than a year.

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