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COMMENTARY: Store pet sales support inhumane practices

Drive down the main streets of Las Vegas and you’ll see an array of sign spinners promoting “Puppies!” in front of strip mall stores.

Unfortunately, the adorable animals in the windows are regularly purchased from poorly regulated, out-of-state commercial breeding facilities known as “puppy mills.” Bred under cruel conditions — in dark, filthy cages with improper air flow — many of these young dogs have both health and behavioral issues.

Thanks to a recent ordinance brought forth by Commissioner Michael Naft, Clark County residents have a chance to stop enabling these egregious breeding practices. The proposed change will ban the sale of dogs, cats, rabbits and potbellied pigs in local pet stores. But before we can turn a policy into practice, we need a better understanding of what’s at stake if we remain complacent about this animal cruelty.

Despite the widespread stigma and documentation of inhumane conditions in puppy mills, the Humane Society estimates there are 10,000 of these operations still active in the United States alone. Fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, but the regulatory standards for these facilities remain exceptionally low.

Commercial breeding facilities sacrifice the health and humane treatment of animals to keep overhead costs low and profits high. Females are expected to give birth to two litters a year, putting an exceptional tax on their bodies. When they can no longer breed, they are abandoned or taken to shelters where they are left emotionally scarred. Others are killed.

Newborn puppies taken to strip mall stores are riddled with hidden health issues, largely from their lack of proper nutrition and essential veterinary care, including vaccinations. Many suffer from distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvo. In recent years, some bacterial outbreaks among puppies in pet stores were even linked to infections in humans.

The majority of these animals end up in pet stores — more than a dozen of which are in Clark County. The number of pet stores in Southern Nevada increased significantly after California passed its own similar ordinance in 2018. Store owners were scrambling to find a new location to conduct their business.

Beyond exploitation, puppy mills are contributing to overcrowding in local animal shelters, which has ignited a crisis in Clark County. The addition of animals for sale on virtually every street corner is exacerbating this problem.

Thankfully, animal advocates have the power to catalyze change, starting with the proposed humane pet store ordinance.

Those opposing the ordinance — primarily pet store owners — claim they do not obtain the animals they sell from mills or that they come from USDA-regulated facilities. Both of these arguments are irrelevant.

First, responsible breeders do not outsource their animals to pet stores, per their codes of conduct. Second, the low regulatory standards of the USDA lead to continued negligent practices in breeding facilities, many of which have been reported on extensively by the Humane Society.

Other opponents of this ordinance argue consumers will turn to online purchasing of pets, which can be equally dangerous to animals. And while more needs to be done to stop commercial breeding facilities, it is inexcusable to block policies which help move us in that direction.

While many government entities and nonprofit organizations are working to pass laws that stop these mills at the point of sale, advocates should also enact change in their own lives. It is up to each one of us to be educated, responsible and empathetic pet adopters.

Local shelters, such as The Animal Foundation and the NSPCA, offer any number of sweet and loving companion animals in need of a good home. A quick online search will turn up many breeds, sizes and ages of available pets. If your desired breed is not available for adoption, breed-specific rescues are another great option.

Awareness of inhumane breeding practices in commercial facilities needs to be at the forefront of prospective pet owners’ minds. When we have the knowledge, we can take action to make the world a more compassionate place.

Rachel Glaze is a board member for the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was formerly a community services specialist in the office of Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft.

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