News Briefs

Missouri lawmaker seeks to bar municipalities from imposing limits on pet stores

By: - February 28, 2023 10:05 am

Legislation in the Missouri House would bar municipalities from creating laws that restrict pet shops (Dan Brandenburg/Getty Images).

A Missouri House committee will hear testimony Wednesday on a bill barring local governments from regulating pet stores, a move critics say could enable commercial dog breeders with substandard practices.

The legislation seeks to prohibit municipalities from creating laws that restrict pet shops. Rep. Ben Baker, a Neosho Republican sponsoring the bill, said companies like Petland and Petco have been asking for this preemptive step.

Petland, which is the largest retail chain in the U.S. that sells puppies, hired five Missouri lobbyists to represent the company beginning this January. The company is based in Ohio.

“[Restrictions] would have a huge impact on a lot of businesses in the state,” Baker said. “So we’re just saying you can’t regulate them out of business.”

Baker’s town of Neosho may not have a store selling puppies, but there are 18 breeders and four dealers actively registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cody Atkinson, Missouri’s state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said he has not heard of any Missouri municipalities considering anti-pet-store legislation.

Cities like Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico, have banned the sale of certain pets in stores. Other states, such as New York and California, have banned the practice statewide with the exception of storefronts that allow adoptions of animals.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill similar to Baker’s last June, allowing Florida’s municipalities to carry out bans against the sale of dogs and cats.

“We hope that folks understand the consequences of this bill would be to essentially greenlight the continued growth of the puppy mill industry in Missouri,” Atkinson said.

He defined a “puppy mill” as “any sort of breeding operation in which the welfare of the animal is not placed at the top of their priorities and, instead, the profits and efficiency of that operation is the priority.”

The Humane Society of the United States documented instances of dog breeders in Missouri with state inspection violations selling to pet stores.

Missouri, in recent years, has had the largest number of breeders on the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” list, which reveals the worst inspection details the organization has accessed each year.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, speaks during House debate on May 13, 2022 (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

Baker said he didn’t think his bill would affect the standard of care dogs receive in Missouri because the health requirements for breeders is a “separate part of the law.”

“This is just involving the municipalities and their regulations,” he said. “I don’t think it would make it to where we can do less regulation that is currently in place for inspections.”

He said he is worried about local government “regulating pet shops out of business.”

Atkinson said he would prefer people buy puppies directly from breeders instead of going to a store.

“I cannot stress enough that buying a puppy is not the same as buying a bag of chips,” he said.

He wants dog owners to be more cautious when buying puppies to make sure they are supporting breeders that treat puppies well.

The bill is one of four headed to be heard in a House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee hearing. The committee’s current legislation addresses the power governmental entities have at both the state and local levels.

Baker said that while he’s usually in favor of giving control to municipalities, he wants to ensure businesses statewide can survive.

“I’m a proponent of local control, but there are times when local control becomes a problem that affects the rest of the state and business around the rest of the state,” he said. “If another municipality is putting things in place that regulates businesses in my district, then that’s when I think sometimes the state has to step in and scrutinize that.”

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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.