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Maryland Pet Stores File Lawsuit to Block State Ban on Dog and Cat Sales


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JacLou DL from Pixabay

Several Maryland pet stores filed a lawsuit Aug. 23 in an effort to block the Maryland Pet Store Ban, also known as the “No More Puppy-Mill Pups Act,” which is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The ban would bar pet stores in Maryland from selling dogs and cats, a move that would put them out of business, according to the plaintiffs.

Animal welfare groups pushed for the ban to help eradicate “puppy mills” as well as to protect consumers from purchasing unhealthy animals. Proponents argued that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for promoting and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, standards are insufficient, and that the USDA does not properly oversee or implement its regulations.

The plaintiffs contest that there are already “strict” sourcing and reporting requirements, including the requirement for pet store owners to provide a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian certifying the health of the pet.

“Animal welfare organizations made these unfounded claims despite the fact that the Maryland Consumer Protection Division had responded to only a limited number of complaints regarding issues of compliance with Maryland’s strict sourcing requirements, and that the Consumer Protection Division had not actually issued any fines as a result of any investigations within the past three years,” the lawsuit said.

Several of the plaintiffs in the case—Charm City Puppies in Columbia, Just Puppies in Rockville, and Today’s Pet in Elkridge—said they follow all requirements for retail pet stores in Maryland to sell their puppies to the public. They also provide health certificates at the time of sale to customers for all dogs, notice of rights and remedies, and provide limited warranties regarding health and condition of the puppies purchased by customers. The plaintiffs also noted that while they maintain their own respective websites, they do not sell puppies online.

About 90 percent to 95 percent of gross revenue comes from the sale of dogs, according to officials from Charm City Puppies and Just Puppies. The other 5 percent to 10 percent of revenue comes from pet accessories.

“If this ban goes through, our store will have no choice but to close,” said Becky Schmidt, manager of Charm City Puppies. “Twenty-five store employees will lose their jobs, and the effects will trickle down to other Maryland businesses like our veterinarians, groomers, dog trainers, etc.”

Pinnacle Pet, a commercial broker of dogs in Neosho, Mo., and Jodie Hancock, a commercial breeder of dogs through 2 Mile Kennel in Bogard, Mo.—also plaintiffs in the case—would take financial hits as well, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs don’t like “puppy mills” any more than anyone else, said Travis J. Martz, counsel at Kagan Stern Marinello & Beard LLC in Annapolis, Md.

“Like the animal rights activists, the plaintiffs in this case despise the deplorable conditions fostered by ‘puppy mills,’ animal hoarders, unregulated shelters, unlicensed breeders and international puppy importers,” Martz said. “This case is important because it asks the federal court system to preserve the robust consumer protection laws currently in existence that provide breeder transparency, puppy vet certificates and health guarantees to purchasers. If these laws get stricken, the puppy market in Maryland will be sourced by unregulated channels only such as shelters, rescues, hobby breeders and the internet.”

The lawsuit alleges that the ban is unconstitutional, violating the federal Commerce Clause.

“The Maryland Pet Store Ban’s purpose is to remove Maryland from the nationwide market of pet sales in stores in hopes of eradicating the so-called puppy mill industry,” the lawsuit said. “However, a State may not achieve a local economic goal by isolating itself from the national economy … Therefore, the Maryland Pet Store Ban discriminates against out-of-state breeders and brokers in its purpose.”

The ban also discriminates against in-state retail pet stores, according to the lawsuit.

“Because the Maryland law does not restrict the sale of dogs from out-of-state breeders and/or brokers via the internet or other means, but does restrict the sale of dogs via retail establishments in Maryland, the State is discriminating against in-state retail pet stores based on the origin of their products, which violates the Commerce Clause,” according to the lawsuit.

Schmidt said that she remains hopeful that a judge will look at the facts and rule in their favor.

“Our plan moving forward is to continue to fight for our ability to keep providing our customers with quality puppies from reputable breeders,” Schmidt said.

Maryland is the second state to pass such restrictions, following California, which had a similar ban that went into effect earlier this year.

 

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