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When Local Control is Needed

Annie Hornish

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Photo: Pet store Photo credit: Flickr—smerikal

The subject of municipal powers has been a source of debate this legislative session. One such debate is on House Bill 6542, which would clarify that municipalities may decide for themselves whether or not to place restrictions on pet shops in addition to the minimal regulations imposed under state law.


In 2019, the City of Stamford was poised to pass an ordinance banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet shops. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture intervened, stating that their authority over the regulation of pet shops would preempt local control. Even though the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) argued that municipalities have local control on this matter, the fear of uncertainty in attracting a costly legal challenge left Stamford lawmakers seeking more clarity, and the City issued a Resolution instead.

Since Connecticut is a Dillon’s Rule state, localities within it may exercise powers in the following categories: 1) powers explicitly granted to them; 2) powers necessarily or fairly implied or incidental to the powers expressly granted to them; 3) powers deemed essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation. 

Towns are granted general authority to: 1) regulate the keeping of wild and domestic animals and to prevent cruelty to animals; 2) prohibit nuisances that are detrimental to the health, morals, safety, convenience, and welfare of citizens; and 3) regulate and prohibit any trade or business that harms consumers and citizens in general.


According to these explicit powers, municipalities should reasonably be able to enact an ordinance that regulates the keeping of dogs in pet stores because: 1) The vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores originate from puppy mills, so a retail sales ban ordinance would advance the city’s express authority to prevent animal cruelty; 2) The sale of dogs in pet stores certainly impacts the public morals, health, and welfare, as the vast majority of dogs come from substandard living conditions, and consumers are often not aware of these conditions. A retail sales ban ordinance would help prevent such a nuisance in the community; and 3) Consumers are often misled as to the origins and general health of dogs sold in pet stores, and often left with limited resources after purchasing a sick animal, so a retail sales ban ordinance would advance the express authority of the municipality to regulate trade and businesses that are conducive to “fraud and cheating.”

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PHOTO: Brandy was near death when rescued from a Virginia puppy mill alongside almost 100 other dogs. The dogs were in an outside pen littered with old, moldy feces, with only two plastic barrels for shelter. She was skin and bones save for her giant, round, pregnant belly. Photo credit: HSUS.

Further, provisions in state law explicitly recognize municipal authority to require licensure for dog breeders. Such licensure is arguably a regulation of the sale of dogs given that the purpose of breeding dogs is generally to sell them for profit. Accordingly, if municipalities have the authority to place stringent requirements on breeder licensure, they arguably have the authority to regulate local sales of dogs. 


Three municipalities have issued resolutions and are standing ready to pass a sales ban. Since both the federal and state government have failed to stop the influx of mill-bred dogs into Connecticut, municipalities should be free to act without fear of a lawsuit.


Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a supporting member of Sierra Club.

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