After a flood of public comments, including impassioned pleas from owners of pet stores and animal rights activists, the Huntington Beach City Council decided early Wednesday to rework a proposed ban on the retail sale of dogs and cats.
Instead of immediately banning dog and cat sales at stores, the 4-3 council majority now wants to phase in the measure over the next two years so pet shops have time to adapt to an adoption model.
“This has been one of my most horrible weeks that I’ve had to deal with on the City Council,” said Councilman Joe Shaw, who proposed the two-year phase-in. “I’m very torn between the feelings I have about us possibly putting a small business owner out of business” and concern for how animals are treated.
The council majority’s efforts are driven by the cramped and unsanitary conditions at so-called “puppy mills.” Animal rights groups say the facilities produce many of the dogs sold in Orange County.
The decision to change the proposal came after more than two hours of passionate public comments on the issue.
Owners of Pets Pets Pets and Animal Kingdom — the two shops affected by the proposal — asserted that none of their dogs came from puppy mills. But some city leaders and animal rights activists called that into question, saying that Hunte Corp., the broker used by Pets Pets Pets, is the leading distributor of puppy-mill dogs.
But not every council member was convinced.
“I haven’t seen the proof that these particular establishments are selling puppy-mill dogs,” said Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer. “I think that would need to be established” before moving forward with a ban.
Councilman Matthew Harper suggested the ban on dog sales at stores could ultimately lead to a prohibition on gas cars and meat.
“Is the next move ‘sorry, can’t sell meat, can’t sell steak’? Can we maybe get a situation where ‘sorry, we’re not going to have gasoline-powered engines for cars on Beach Boulevard?”
Harper added that he didn’t understand the focus on dogs and cats.
“Why dogs and cats, and what’s the difference between rabbits, fish, turtles and everything else? Because they’re not as cute?” asked Harper. “Because there isn’t this much of a political constituency behind these other animals?”
Councilwoman Connie Boardman, however, responded that there’s a clear reason to focus on dogs.
“I think one reason we’re addressing puppies, Council Member Harper, is because there’s extraordinarily well-documented abuses in puppy mills,” said Boardman. “Extraordinarily.”
The city staff will rewrite the proposed ordinance after conferring with animal rights supporters and the two businesses affected by the measure, then bring it to the council for a vote.
The decision came on a 4-3 vote, with Harper, Dwyer and Mayor Don Hansen opposing.