"Local Rule"

A Vital Check Against Corruption and Incompetence

Annie Hornish

Sometimes the protection of animals and the environment are best facilitated in the form of local ordinances, especially where there exists corruption or incompetence by agencies charged with that protection. It is vital that municipalities subdue threats to local power as they arise, like the recent attempt by the Department of Agriculture (DoAG) to muddy efforts by the City of Stamford to pass an ordinance to fight puppy mills.

Connecticut law (Title 7, Chapter 98) provides limitations on municipal authority, but 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, a municipality such as Stamford should be able to enact an ordinance that requires humane sourcing of dogs by pet stores because such an ordinance would: 1) advance the city’s express authority to prevent animal cruelty, as the vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores originate from puppy mills; 2) prevent a nuisance that negatively impacts the community’s morals, health, and welfare, as the vast majority of dogs come from substandard living conditions, and consumers are often not aware of these conditions; and 3) regulate trade and businesses that harm consumers, as consumers are often misled about the origins and general health of dogs sold in pet stores, and often left with limited resources after purchasing a sick animal.

A mere day before Stamford’s likely committee vote on August 20th, DoAG intervened with a correspondence to the Stamford city attorney claiming that the state, being a regulator of pet shops, would preempt Stamford’s authority to pass a local ordinance that would require humane sourcing. DoAG provided no detailed reasoning, but this last-second wrench was enough to delay the vote and stall the process. As of this writing, the question is being explored by our Attorney General, William Tong.

The decision on local control of this matter may have far-reaching consequences in terms of the authority of municipalities to get the necessary work done to protect animals and the environment.

Humane sourcing models not only exist, but are the norm. The overwhelming majority of pet shops, over 120 in Connecticut, do not sell dogs and cats, but instead partner with local shelter and rescue groups. Over 70 pet shops in Connecticut have signed the “Puppy Friendly Pledge” of the Humane Society of the United States, pledging to not sell commercially bred dogs. Responsible breeders never sell to pet shops—it is in the Codes of Ethics of nearly all breed clubs. Only 4% of homes get their dogs from pet stores, so consumer choice will not be limited. The handful of pet shops who still sell commercially bred dogs are outliers in their own $72 billion pet market industry, which is dominated by the sale of products and services.

DoAG’s shenanigans suggest corruption: a regulator too cozy with those they regulate.

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

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PHOTO CAPTION: Stamford resident and District Leader for The Humane Society of the United States, Dr. Pat Harmon, speaking to a packed room of supporters at the Aug. 20, 2019 public hearing for Stamford’s humane sourcing ordinance; strong community support is also evidenced by multiple letters in the Stamford Advocate. Municipalities should have the power to stop the trafficking of puppy mills, as well as other issues pertaining to animal and environmental welfare. Photo credit: Annie Hornish.