Maryland Pet Stores Sue to Stop ‘Puppy Mill’ Law

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) tries to corral a four-legged supporter at the April 24, 2018, signing of House Bill 1662, which bans retail sales of cats and dogs beginning Jan. 1, 2020. The law has been challenged in court by pet store owners. Photo via the Governor's Press Office.

A coalition of pet store owners and breeders are suing the state of Maryland before a new law can take effect to ban the sale of dogs and cats in retail pet stores.

Originally dubbed the “No More Puppy and Kitten Mills Act,” the bill was passed by the General Assembly in April 2018 and is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Retail pet stores in Towson, Rockville, Columbia and Elkridge – along with a Missouri-based dog breeder and a Missouri-based commercial dog broker – filed a lawsuit challenging the law in U.S. District Court last week.

The companies say that Maryland’s law will put them out of business and drive would-be pet owners to less-regulated markets. But animal rights groups say retail sales of puppies and kittens cause the proliferation of inhumane “puppy mills.”

Before the 2018 legislation, which became a top priority of the late Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) and was signed into law by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) with a crowd of rescue pups gathered on the State House grounds, Maryland had passed strict laws restricting retail sales.

In 2012 and 2016, Maryland joined dozens of other states that passed laws more stringent than the federal Animal Welfare Act to counteract puppy mill breeders. Maryland’s law required stricter documentation of animals’ early lives and backgrounds by breeders and that stores provide health certificates from licensed veterinarians.

The pet stores filing suit say they deal with “good and reputable” breeders who are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that claims they drive proliferation of puppy mills are unfounded. The lawsuit also says the 2018 bill discards the protections for animal safety passed earlier.

“The new ban on the sale of pets will effectively shift the sale of puppies from regulated retail pet stores to unregulated marketplaces, such as throughout the internet,” the lawsuit states.

The bill allows local breeders to sell cats and dogs and for rescue organizations and shelters to partner with retail stores for adoption events.

The businesses contend that small local breeders, animal rescues and animal shelters aren’t subject to the same USDA licensing requirements as their breeders.

The lawsuit also cites two cases of animal cruelty by hobby breeders and an animal rescue organization within the last few months. In April, two people were charged with animal cruelty in Carroll County when more than a dozen dogs were found dead and others were in dire condition. In May, Howard County Police and animal control removed more than 100 animals found in overcrowded and unclean conditions at the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County shelter; two board members have been charged with animal cruelty at the now-shuttered shelter.

Among their claims, the businesses argue that because the Maryland law does not restrict the sale of dogs via the internet or other means, but does restrict sales at retail stores, the state is discriminating against in-state retail pet stores based on the origin of their products, which violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The case names as defendants Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and the House and Senate committees that passed the bills to the full chambers.

At a bill hearing in 2018, then-Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), who now sits in the Senate, said the USDA licenses touted by breeders and stores that sell animals are inadequate and allow for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. A lack of strenuous inspections, as opposed to proper conditions, accounts for low citation rates at USDA-licensed breeders, Kramer said.

Washington Post report published last week detailed a steep drop in enforcement actions by USDA animal welfare citations over the past several years. While there were 9,489 inspections and 6,052 citations in 2014, those figures had dropped to 8,354 inspections and 1,716 citations by 2018, according to the report.

Kramer also expressed concern at the bill hearing that businesses selling dogs and cats in Maryland hadn’t been in full compliance with Maryland’s earlier laws.

“The puppy mill industry is a disgusting abomination that no one could consider acceptable in the 21st century,” he said last year.

Maryland was the second state in the country, behind California, to pass such a law.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

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