Connecticut Animal Welfare Groups Passionately Protect Animals
(page 2 of 5)
By all accounts, the Connecticut legislature’s spring 2013 session was a great one for animals. More bills were proposed and advanced on their behalf than in any previous session. Laws were passed that prohibit municipalities from enacting breed-specific dog ordinances, prohibit the tethering of dogs outside during extreme-weather advisories, and require that euthanasia of any domestic animal be performed only by a licensed veterinarian. (Known as “Buddy’s Law,” the last provision was instigated by a 2010 tragedy in which a German shepherd adopted from Westport Animal Control was shot to death the following day by his new owner.) Other measures included new funding to double the availability of low-cost spay/neuter vouchers to low-income families and to help develop training for counselors using therapy animals to treat traumatized children.
Thanks for many of these successes goes to Bloomfield’s Connecticut Votes for Animals (CVA), a 501(c)4 lobbying organization established in 2008. “We grew out of the animal-rescue community,” says president Amy Harrell. “We recognized that while the work rescue groups do is absolutely crucial, legislative advocacy could complement these efforts and make rescuers’ lives much easier. It’s another essential part of the animal-rights picture.” CVA employs a full-time lobbyist who knocks on legislators’ doors to get the votes, helps the organization frame and draft legislative proposals, and advises them on political strategy. “Up until now, our main goal has been to establish a firm presence at the state capitol as an organization that speaks for animals,” says Harrell. “But this is also about mobilizing the people of Connecticut to speak for animals as well, and convincing them to contact their own representatives. There are innumerable instances where we need to strengthen animal-rights laws. The more people who speak up, the better. People don’t have to be experts to get a legislator’s ear—just constituents.”
That’s not to suggest that our legislators have all been asleep at the leash. In 2009, Rep. Fred Camillo (R-Greenwich) joined former state representative Annie Hornish (now Connecticut director of the HSUS) to establish Legislators for Animal Advocacy (LAA), which made the Nutmeg State the first to have a caucus explicitly dedicated to animal-rights issues (California and Colorado have since followed suit). “My dream would be to see every state establish such a caucus,” says Camillo, who spent three years advocating for “Buddy’s Law” and, in the first year of the caucus, successfully introduced a proposal to establish a “Pet Lemon Law.”
This law—targeted primarily at the 18 pet stores in Connecticut that sell puppies and kittens—requires the stores’ owners to reimburse consumers up to $500 in veterinary expenses should any pet they sell turn out to be sick. If the pet becomes ill within 20 days of sale, or a genetic defect is found within six months, they must replace the animal or provide a full refund. They also must display information regarding each dog’s breeder (known as U.S. Department of Agriculture “certificates of origin”) openly on all puppy cages. Shops must inform consumers of these provisions at point of purchase. In 2012, the legislature closed the law’s “love loophole” that allowed store owners to demand an animal be returned before they had to issue any reimbursement. Now, disappointed buyers can get financial satisfaction and keep their pets.
The reason for this law is that these stores routinely sell animals bred at substandard U.S. “puppy mills.” Largely found in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania—the latter two have been called the “hubs” of the trade—puppy mills are notorious for operating as large-scale factory-farm-style profit machines. Little regard is given to the animals they breed, who are forced to endure pregnancy after pregnancy until they can no longer reproduce, at which point they’re often illegally euthanized. The resulting offspring are born into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food or socialization. Because insufficient attention is given to genetic hardiness, many of the babies are born with unchecked hereditary defects.
While these breeders fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA (which investigates and maintains records of their operational violations), little is done to ensure that the problems get corrected. “The USDA is simply stretched too thin to enforce the laws,” says Heather Bradley, president of a Guilford organization called Connecticut Coalition Against Puppy Mills. Animals who are damaged may have two strikes against them: The HSUS reports that 30 percent of all dogs bought in pet stores wind up in municipal shelters. Bradley’s group stages monthly peaceful protests outside Connecticut pet shops as a form of public education, an initiative it launched in 2011 with demonstrations in front of Guilford’s All Pets Club. “If even two people come up to us at a protest and learn something about this issue, it’s worth our time,” she says.
Connecticut Coalition Against Puppy Mills has also joined with the CVA and LAA in the fight to pass legislation that would prohibit outright the sale of puppy mill pets in Connecticut. A proposal to this end, known as House Bill 5027, introduced in the last legislative session by Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield) and Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-Fairfield), had significant bipartisan and grassroots support, including more than 50 cosponsors. (Kupchick admits that she literally had a dog in this fight—a beagle named Copper, bought from a pet store, who in her 12 years of life racked up $16,000 in vet bills.) Ultimately, the legislation was defeated by a strong push back from the Pet Store Lobby and Pet Joint Advisory Committee, which represent the interests of pet shop owners—but a compromise was reached, establishing a task force that will compile data for review of the issue in the February 2014 legislative session.
Pet store owners continue to deny that they sell puppy mill animals, though Connecticut files certificates of origin for every dog brought into the state—that Harrell says clearly show otherwise. “We have a person who researches these certificates and looks up the USDA breeder violations. We’re finding that every pet store in Connecticut that sells puppies, sells puppy-mill dogs. It’s what we are hoping to officially demonstrate with this task force.” Bradley has become all too familiar with the pet stores’ evasions. “I sat down with the owner of All Pets Club two years ago for an hour-and-a-half meeting,” she says. “He refused to acknowledge that they get their puppies from mills or factories. Even when you present these shop owners with the USDA reports, they’ll keep insisting that they’re dealing with nice little old ladies in Kansas. The only person who’s ever admitted it’s a cruel business is Sean Silverman, the owner of Puppy Love in Danbury. He swears he’ll get out of it in two years when he pays off the mortgage on his home.”
Meanwhile, for attempting to pursue this legislation, Camillo, McKinney and Kupchick have been accused of hindering small business. “That’s not what we’re trying to do,” says Camillo. “We’re all clearly pro-business. What we’re trying to do is promote the welfare of animals who can’t speak for themselves.” It’s a battle, he admits, that will continue to be won “piece by piece.” Possibly even on the municipal level: The town of Branford is considering its own local ordinance to ban the retail sale of cats, dogs and rabbits—a law that’s already on the books in San Diego, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M., and Austin, Texas. Such laws have proven to be a boon for both local pet breeders and animal shelters—Albuquerque’s shelter adoptions have risen 23 percent since its ordinance went into effect in 2006. Camillo hopes for a cooperative arrangement between pet stores and shelters in Connecticut. “I think pet shop owners could sell shelter animals,” he says. “It’d be a win-win for everybody.”
But it wouldn’t mean that all potential pets’ problems would be over. “If we get this state legislation passed, there’s still the issue of Internet pet sales,” says Bradley, sounding a cautionary note. “The number of pets sold in our mom-and-pop stores pales by comparison.”