Impact of California’s Retail Pet Sale Ban

False Promises Create Unintended Consequences


Over the past 10 years animal welfare organizations have continued to advocate for the adoption of homeless dogs and have had impressive, measurable success.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey* reports a drastic increase in the number of dogs adopted via shelter or rescue. A remarkable jump from 17% in 2006 to 42% in 2016 shows the success of animal welfare organizations.

Spay/neuter programs have also paid off. APPA’s survey reports an increase in spayed/neutered dogs from 75% in 2006 to 85% in 2016.

That substantial increase in spay / neuter compliance will prevent thousands of unwanted litters of puppies from being relinquished to shelters.

But when it comes to puppy mills there is less success, according to one organization. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States in 2007.

Over the past 7 years, there have been 334 retail pet sale bans passed yet there is still no evidence that any have resulted in the closure of a single puppy mill.

Today, HSUS still estimates 10,000 puppy mills in operation are producing 2 million puppies per year.


“Never Mistake Activity for Achievement”- John Wooden UCLA Basketball Coach


If the intended “Achievement” is to eliminate puppy mills, then why do we still have 10,000 puppy mills after passing 300 retail pet sale bans?

One “activity” that had absolutely no impact on eliminating puppy mills was the strategy to pass retail puppy sale bans in areas that weren’t selling puppies. Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Truckee and 15 other California communities banned the sale of puppies through retail pet stores. Since these locations had never sold puppies in the first place, it was hard to make the case of eliminating any mills. But the strategy wasn’t really aimed at eliminating puppy mills. It was about passing legislation unopposed and promoting it as the new, effective legislative trend.

Attack the Problem Where it is the Smallest and Least Likely to Occur.


Pet stores are the smallest source for acquiring a new puppy. The 2016 APPA Survey estimated that 3% of puppies are acquired from retail pet stores and 25% are acquired from breeders.

Breeders can avoid any federal or state regulatory oversight by selling directly to their customers or selling over the internet. Small local hobby breeders are also exempt from regulatory oversight and can sell through Craig’s List, local fairs or flea markets.

The smallest source, breeders that sell through pet stores, have federally and state regulated standards of care. In some states, pet stores are held to state, city or county regulations and consumer protection laws.

So in an effort to eliminate puppy mills, should you focus on the largest source that operates under no regulations or the smallest source that has multiple levels of regulatory oversight?


Are Arguments Against Pet Stores Based on Facts?


Supporters of bans argue more consumer complaints come from pet stores. However simply looking at all the data, confirms less than one-tenth of consumer complaints originate from pet stores.

The recent HSUS publication, Puppy Buyer Complaints A Ten Year Summary 2007-2017 stated of 5,118 consumer complaints 2,082 were from consumers who purchased their puppies at a pet store. Unfortunately, HSUS did not put this is context with the number of pet-store-puppies sold.

Pet stores source 3% of the puppies acquired each year, pet stores sell approximately 250,000 puppies per year. During the 10-year time period of 2007 to 2017, pet stores would have sold 2.5 million puppies. Only 2,082 complaints of 2.5 million puppies is less than 0.1% (.083%) of puppies sold from 2007-2017.

Targeted regulations can prevent these anecdotal occurrences from becoming a recurring problem in the future. Regulations can provide enforceable standards that allow only retailers who follow best practice standards of care to operate their business. Retail pet store bans have had no measurable impact because they are focused on the smallest and most regulated source of new puppies sold in an environment with a 99% success rate.


Unintended Consequences


California’s retail pet sale ban eliminated the only federal and state regulated source for puppies and dogs – the pet store.

Bans will not decrease demand for puppies and dogs but increase the unregulated breeder market. Breeders, who already provide 8 times as many puppies as pet stores, will now see their market share grow.

Potential Problems of Buying Direct from Unregulated Breeders

In California it is now left to the prospective dog owner to navigate the breeder world to determine which are adhering to best practices of humane care and which breeders are raising their puppies in sub-standard facilities.

It is fair to assume low standards of care are more likely to occur with unregulated breeders who don’t allow the consumer to view their kennels. But it is less likely that breeders consistently inspected by federal, state and county regulators maintain sub-standard levels of care. Breeders must be inspected to qualify to sell puppies at pet stores.

There are many highly responsible and fully transparent breeders who adhere to the highest standards of care for their puppies and their breeding dogs. But when puppies are sold away from the kennel where they were bred and housed, where there were no requirements to meet regulatory standards of care, the consumer can only hope for the best without the benefit of any consumer protection.

As with any inequity between supply and demand, notable black-market activities step-up to meet demand from both for profit and non-profit organizations.

In April of 2018 The Washington Post published a story about non-profit rescue groups spending millions to buy pure bred puppies at breeder auctions and marketing them to adopters as having been rescued from puppy mills. The Huffington Post published a similar story on National Mill Dog Rescue in July and the organization is now on probation for violating veterinary practice laws.

The CDC reported in May that there had been a marked increase in illegal puppy importation from eastern Europe where there are little or no humane standards of care or regulated standards of transportation. At many US ports of entry CDC officers are finding crates with dead, sick, or underage puppies of various breeds.

Get the numbers: CDC reports over 1 million dogs are imported annually.


The Current Consumer Demand for Puppies


California animal shelters can only supply approximately 25% of the puppies and dogs that will be acquired over the next 12 months. Californian’s demand for dogs is 860,000 over the next year. In 2018, California’s shelters provided about 184,000 dogs. Prospective dog owners will acquire over 500,000 puppies and dogs from other sources over the next year.

Banning the sale of professionally bred puppies from retail pet stores does not increase the number of shelter dogs available for adoption.

There is not a national overpopulation of homeless dogs but there is a geographic disparity in the number of homeless dogs.

According to the ASPCA, animal shelters in the United States took in approximately 3.3 million dogs in 2016 and the AVMA Sourcebook estimated that 7.7 million dogs were acquired in 2016.


In general, the Southeast and Southwest regions of the country are still experiencing overpopulation with homeless dogs. The Northeast and Northwest have more demand than shelter dogs available for adoption.

Read: Washington Post, Does America Have Enough Dogs for all the People that Want one?



Over the past 5 years there have been many successful transport programs operated by national and regional animal welfare organizations to transport adoptable dogs from areas of overpopulation to areas of high demand. These programs are now seeing a decline in the number of adoptable dogs under 6 months of age to be transported to areas of high demand.





Animal welfare advocates have made outstanding success increasing the number of animals adopted from shelters and rescues and educating dog owners on the importance of spaying and neutering their dogs.

Today retail ban advocates are ignoring the real data on shelter dog population in relation to consumer demand and the new reality that unregulated commercial dog breeding is flourishing to meet this demand. Demand is not a philosophy or a political position, it is a force that drives market behavior.

It would be in the best interest of canine welfare and consumer protection, for animal welfare organizations to work with best practice breeders and retailers to develop regulations that truly protect the welfare of puppies and dogs from all sources of acquisition. 

Suggested Further Reading:
Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine Researches Welfare of Breeding Dogs in Commercial Breeding Kennels
National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) Study Confirms Fewer Dogs, Scare Purebreds in US Animal Shelters. 

*Note: The American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey is only available for purchase here.


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