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Fight Against Puppy Mills Gets Local

Annie Hornish

Puppy mills are a blight on our nation. With the federal government now impotent in the fight against puppy mills, through bureaucratic shenanigans that block near all transparency for consumers, the fight against puppy mills is now being fought at the state and municipal levels. With enforcement rendered nearly impossible, sales bans are the only mechanism left to ensure humane sourcing of animals.


Three statewide bans currently exist, and many more states are considering similar measures. There are currently a whopping 341 local ordinances that prohibit sales of commercially bred dogs (and often cats and rabbits, too). Puppy mill industry pushback is failing, recently losing its seventh federal court challenge, with the federal courts once again asserting that states have the authority to crack down on puppy mill traffickers through sales bans.


Photo: Puppy mills are being successfully fought with humane sourcing laws at the state and local levels. 

Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States.

In 2019, the City of Stamford tried to institute a sales ban, and there was overwhelming support for its passage. But the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAG) intervened, saying that DoAG oversight of pet shops may preclude local control. The ambiguity presented by DoAG led the Stamford City Attorney to rule that the Stamford Board of Representatives could not exert local control to fight puppy mills by banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet shops. Instead of suing the city to challenge the City Attorney’s findings, which would be costly to taxpayers, the Board of Representatives opted to issue a 2019 resolution expressing a desire for a statewide ban on the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits by pet shops, and if not, that a statewide law be passed that clarifies that municipalities have local control to ban such sales. 


Connecticut currently has legislation pending that would clarify that municipalities have such local control, paving the way for people to fight this immoral trade right in their own communities. Puppy mill traffickers are fighting back in desperation, now insisting on a “grandfather clause” for existing stores, but this trickery will be fought by Connecticut’s animal advocates.


Indeed, grandfathering would only add to our state’s known problem: The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) examined DoAG’s paper trail of puppies sold in Connecticut pet shops and found that not only are these outlier pet shops dealing with puppy mills, but many are dealing with the worst of the worst puppy mills, bad enough to make the HSUS’s “Horrible Hundred.”


Grandfathering would support not only a pipeline of cruelty, but an anachronistic business model: The few pet shops that still sell commercially bred dogs are outliers in the $72 billion pet shop industry, an industry dominated by services, product sales, and partnerships with rescue and adoption groups. The overwhelming majority of Connecticut pet shop businesses -- over 120, including industry giants Petsmart and Petco --  do not sell dogs. To date, 73 Connecticut pet stores have signed the HSUS Puppy Friendly Pledge, pledging to not sell dogs sourced from commercial breeding facilities.


It’s time for these outlier pet shops to re-tool their business model and follow best business practices of their own industry.


Annie Hornish is the Connecticut Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a Supporting Member of  Sierra Club. Contact her at

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