Pet Stores and the Law

Pet shops have become big business in recent years. Not only do pet stores sell what would be considered traditional pets, such as cats and dogs, but they are increasingly selling exotic animals as well. The laws regarding the sale of pets varies from state to state and sometimes changes when new legislation is passed. The following information discusses the various laws involving animal sales, pet stores, and puppy mills at the federal and state level.


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Breeders Versus Puppy Mills

To understand the laws and the attempts to regulate safe standards at pet stores, there needs to be a clear understanding of the difference between a reputable breeder and a puppy mill. A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding operation that mass produces puppies to sell for profit. The conditions are often cramped and unsanitary. A reputable dog breeder will usually breed one or only a few dogs at a time. Even though professional breeders and kennels will sell their puppies for a profit as well, the dogs are well cared for and have received adequate nutrition and veterinarian care. A professional dog breeder understands genetic quality and aspects of hereditary diseases. They enjoy raising dogs and make every effort to breed healthy animals, and even raise animals that are of show quality. Puppy mill breeders are in the business solely for profit and sometimes sell animals that are sick or carry hereditary diseases.

It’s hard to estimate how many puppy mills or kitten factories are operating in the United States at any one time. Some may have registered with the state they reside in while others may operate completely underground. It’s been estimated that there may be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 puppy mills in the United states at any given time. While not as prevalent, there are also what are called kitten factories throughout the United States that supply kittens for pet stores. The largest number of puppy mills are located in rural areas in the Midwest. Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas are cited as the states with the most puppy mills.

Federal Law in the United States

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was originally passed in 1966 and was meant to provide regulations for laboratory animals. It has been amended several times in an effort to address problems with animal breeders, dealers, and sellers. AWA does mandate certain standards regarding housing, food, water, and general treatment. The law, however, is still vague and only protects certain animals in certain situations. While there is progress being made, many animal advocates are pushing for more specific laws. Laws in states and cities have been where the most progress has been made in recent years.

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Most states require anyone breeding animals to sell for profit to obtain a breeder’s or kennel license from the city or county they live in. Even if a person doesn’t make a profit from breeding and selling, he or she may still need to acquire a “hobby” license. All breeders are required to get a license from the federal government for animal sales. This license is to be obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Laws Throughout Individual States

According to the website, the states with the strictest laws regarding licensing and inspections of puppy mills include Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine. States that have no specific laws regarding puppy mills include Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. The remaining states require some licensing to varying degrees but not mandatory inspections.

In spite of these laws, most states have a long way to go when it comes to protecting both animals and the public from puppy mills that sell sick animals to pet stores. The Human Society ranks Virginia as the state with the best laws and protections regarding pet stores and the consumers who buy pets at these stores. Mississippi, Kentucky, Idaho, North and South Dakota have the lowest rankings when it comes to pet and consumer safety. Laws against animal cruelty may be used to help stem problems related to unsafe conditions at puppy mills and pet stores. Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the only states where animal cruelty is a misdemeanor and not a felony.

Proposal of Laws

The Animal Law Resource Center has drafted suggested laws and regulations regarding the sale of any kind of animal that would be sold as a pet. They have written the specific ages that different types of animals must reach before being sold as pets as well as other aspects of animal care when being kept and sold through pet shops. Dogs and cats must be eight weeks old. Rabbits must be at least ten weeks old before being sold. Guinea pigs and hamsters must be four weeks old. While many states have not actually passed legislation adhering to these guidelines, some have. For example, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, and 13 other states have laws in which puppies must be at least eight weeks old to be legally sold.

Recent Laws that Have Been Passed

In March 2014, Chicago became yet another city to make it illegal for pet stores to sell animals from puppy mills. In 2012 a state law passed in Ohio requires breeders who sell nine litters or more each year to register with the state. They will also have to get state kennel inspections each year. Lawmakers in Ohio have said they know it won’t solve all the problems of inhuman conditions or sick puppies being sold, but at least there are some regulations in place now to help limit the problem. Sunrise, a city in Broward County, Florida, started drafting legislation in March 2014 to curb the problems resulting from sick puppies being sold to the public. Several areas in South Florida are starting to take a more proactive approach to crack down on the problem by attempting to make it illegal for pet stores to sell any animals from puppy mills.

Sick Animals and the Law

According to, most states have standards for the treatment of animals sold in pet shops. There are still 13 states, however, that do not have any laws safeguarding animals sold in the stores. Laws regarding pet stores and animals they obtain from puppy mills are overall pretty lax. The Human Society of the United States reported receiving nearly 2,500 complaints from 2007 through 2011 regarding sick puppies sold from a variety of sources. In some cases, the puppies died within a few weeks of being purchased. The Human Society estimates that this is probably a small number in comparison to the actual number of sick animals being purchased. Not everyone reports a problem to the Humane Society. Some owners may report a complaint to a local agency, the person they purchased the puppy from, or not report it at all.

Currently, 17 states require pet stores to provide veterinarian care to sick animals and 18 states have requirements concerning the cages and housing for animals. The cage and housing requirements usually stipulate that enough room is provided for animals to stand up and move around naturally. This means that 32 states aren’t required to give animals even this much room. Only 11 states have laws regarding the temperature range pet shops must maintain for the safety and comfort of the animals. There are 16 states that have enacted what are called “lemon laws” to protect consumers who buy animals that are sick or suffering from various diseases. Depending on the state, if a lemon law isn’t in place consumers should take their complaints to either the Better Business Bureau or the state department of consumer affairs. Sometimes the state attorney general’s office would be the place to file a complaint.

A “Typical” Pet Store

There is usually a big difference between obtaining a pet from a reputable breeder and getting one from a pet store. In recent years, however, many pet stores have taken stands against selling animals that come from mills or factories. Unfortunately, some pet stores will tell prospective buyers that the dogs they are purchasing come from professional breeders when in reality they do not. Sometimes the pet stores aren’t aware themselves where the animals have come from. There is, therefore, no typical pet store.

Anyone considering buying a puppy from a pet store should be willing to do some research before buying a pet. A consumer should ask for the name and contact information of the breeder. If the store is not willing to give out this information or doesn’t know, this could be a warning flag that the puppies were acquired from a mill. Even if pet stores are no longer allowed to sell animals from puppy mills it’s likely that animal sales will still continue as these mass breeders will still find ways to sell to the public. Using the Internet, puppies bred in less than scrupulous conditions will simply be marketed directly to buyers, bypassing the pet stores. This is why many people believe an outright ban on puppy mills needs to be passed to end the inhumane conditions many of these animals are born and raised in. Currently, disclosure requirements by pet stores vary from state to state.

Many advocates wonder why stricter laws aren’t in place for pet stores and anyone involved in animal sales. Writing a bill and taking it through the legislative process to make it a law is often a long and difficult process. Once laws are passed enforcement is sometimes difficult and unfortunately, loopholes to the law are often found. Animal groups are making advances, however, when it comes to protecting animals sold in pet shops. Public awareness is an important part of the equation as well. Those looking to purchase pets should consider animal shelters or look in the classifieds and online for reputable breeders. Those who do purchase animals from a pet shop should make sure the store is following all guidelines regarding the highest standards of care for their animals. Prospective buyers should ask for health and breeder documentation from the pet store before purchasing an animal.


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One thought on “Pet Stores and the Law”

  1. Rosemarie says:

    I hope this is still open.
    I purchased a puppy from a very small breeder I Missouri. This is the first time I did this but I wanted a certain dog that I could not get at a shelter. I tried shelters and got taken financially.
    My problem is my dog was sick and died the first here days. The seller promised to return my money if I sent him a vet certificate stating the dog was not fit for sale.. Suddenly he is acting like he won’t refund my money do I have any recourse. He is in Missouri and I am in NJ.
    Thank you in advance for any help you may give

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