Animal Cruelty Crackdown: California Enacts Ban on Roadside Pet Sales

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They’re cute, lonely and in need of loving homes. But California lawmakers are now doling out strict penalties — as well as warnings to the public – on the unregulated sale of pets in hopes to curb acts of animal neglect and cruelty.

In a landmark piece of legislation that passed last week, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will greatly increase legal protections to animals throughout the state, as well as crack down on a significant concern among animal advocates: inhumane puppy mills.

The two-part law, which was introduced by Senator Ted Lieu, prohibits the sale of animals at any kind of public venue, such as on roadsides, street corners and in parking lots, as well as increases the penalties for animal neglect to be in line with that of animal cruelty.

According to Jill Buckley, senior director of government relations and mediation for the ASPCA, prohibiting the roadside sale of animals not only helps to protect animals from irresponsible breeders, but also shields consumers from being scammed into paying for an animal that may be sick or even dying.

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“This has became an animal welfare issue, where animals were being kept in unsanitary conditions, sometimes without water or food,” Buckley told NewsFeed, pointing out that these types of sales take place even in urban areas such as Los Angeles’ downtown fashion district. “Many [of these animals] have not received any kind of inoculations against diseases. People purchase them and bring them home and if they die or get sick, they have no recourse.”

The sales ban is part of a larger initiative by the ASPCA and other animal advocates to decrease consumer demand for dogs that come from puppy mills — commercial breeding facilities that focus more on profits than animal welfare. While it’s not exactly known how many of the pets sold on roadsides and in parking lots come from these puppy mills, Buckley said that the probability is “very likely,” especially with smaller dogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas.

The California bill covers a large range of concerns, from selling animals on street corners to connecting with a so-called breeder over the Internet and meeting to purchase an animal in a neutral location. Animal adoptions and giveaways are exempt from the law. But if money changes hands, and a buyer is not offered the opportunity to visit a seller’s home or business where the dogs are bred, then it’s likely the sale falls into illegal territory, where the seller could be subject to fines or misdemeanor charges.

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“A legitimate breeder is going to talk to you and find out if you’re going to make a good home for the dog, and they’re happy to show you where the dog was raised,” Buckley said. “Someone who is willing to take the dogs in a box onto a street corner or parking lot doesn’t seem to be showing a responsible manner of breeding dogs.”

The roadside sale of animals of all kinds — from dogs and cats to turtles and rabbits — is not a new phenomenon. According to Buckley, this is a countrywide issue. Yet California is the first to enact a statewide ban on roadside animal sales, even when many counties and localities throughout the country have considered or passed similar legislation.

It remains to be seen whether these types of laws will curb the business of puppy mills, but for animal advocates, it’s a step in the right direction.

Erin Skarda is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ErinLeighSkarda. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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