The Dallas City Council is considering an ordinance this week that helps animals — and as is often the case with legislation that involve animals, outside forces have swept in to try and influence the vote.
Called the Humane Pet Store Ordinance, it would stop the sale of puppies at pet stores in Dallas. Should Dallas pass this, it will join Houston, San Antonio, and a growing list of Texas cities that have enacted similar ordinances, which help end the mistreatment of animals by breeders.
The ordinance is being recommended by the Dallas Animal Shelter (DAS), as well as groups such as Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN), which works to promote better treatment of animals.
In Dallas, the ordinance would affect only one store: Petland. No other pet store chain sells puppies. Reputable pet stores — including PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, Petco, Odyssey, The Upper Paw, Pet Supermarket, and Uptown Pup — do not sell puppies or kittens.
The problem with puppies sold at pet stores like Petland is that they have been found to come from puppy mills.
Puppy mills are problematic because the puppies are raised in horrific conditions, stuck in crates stacked on top of each other, matted with feces, often forced for their entire lives to stand on metal bars, which is painful and crippling to their paws.
Puppies get shipped in tight quarters across thousands of miles, often arriving dehydrated, sick, and suffering from contagious diseases — diseases the buyer doesn't spot until after they get the pet home, and are then faced with expensive vet bills and, in the worst case, the potential death of their new pet.
THLN's records show that Dallas Petland has sold out-of-state puppy mill puppies for years. In 2020 alone, the Dallas Petland received 1,300 puppies from out-of-state millers.
"Public records do show that puppies in Petland stores are sourced from puppy mills where dogs are bred in horrific conditions," says Lauren Loney, Texas state director of the Humane Society of the United States. "This is not subjective nor an opinion but based on facts grounded in public documents."
Loney says that Dallas Petland has also been deceptive about the origin of its dogs for sale.
"Dallas Petland has falsely advertised that their puppies come from 'top USDA breeders, inspected with no violations' — but public documentation shows they were supplied with at least 40 puppies from an unregulated and unlicensed breeder in Missouri whose owner is facing cruelty," Loney says.
Beyond the cruelty aspect, there's also the financial component: Dallas Petland has had complaints in the last two years not only for selling sick puppies but for charging hidden high-interest rates on their sales.
Petland is based in Chillicothe, Ohio, with approximately 200 stores worldwide and 140 in the U.S., owned by franchisees. There are two locations in North Texas. Both have besieged by problems including crime and cruelty charges.
The Dallas location has been plagued by numerous thefts while the Frisco location has been the target of protests for many years and was the subject of a horrifying expose by the HSUS, which found that pets were mistreated, sick, and overcrowded. An investigator kept a diary documenting puppies that had bloody diarrhea, vomiting, sneezing, coughing, or were visibly underweight. It forced a reluctant Frisco City Council to enact an ordinance with minimum safety and cleanliness guidelines.
Unfortunately, Petland is being backed by out-of-state forces attempting to confuse Dallas City Council members and residents about the legislation. If you're on Facebook, you've probably seen the ads. They show adorable puppies, and uses trigger words like "families" and "black market."
The ads are from HumaneWatch, the front for infamous lobbyist Rick Berman, nicknamed "Dr. Evil," who gets paid to run smear campaigns while keeping the identify of his clients a secret. Berman targets public service groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sierra Club, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and unions. (He was once caught in a secret recording telling a group that "I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.")
The ads claim that people who want to buy a pet will have to go to "dark corners" to find them. But Loney points out that there are plenty of legit places where people can find pets, including shelters, rescues, and even responsible breeders.
"This ordinance will not impact the ability of Dallas residents to purchase a pet, and most responsible breeding clubs have a prohibition on selling puppies at pet stores," she says. "The American Kennel Club itself states that families can take several steps including meeting the breeder in person and meeting the parents of the puppy they want to buy. None of those steps are possible in a pet store."
"This ordinance is in line with existing pet store best practices," she says. "It's not an effort to put a store out of business. Petland can shift to a more humane model, and remain in business, as dozens of Petlands across the country have already done."