Massachusetts Legislature Must Protect Pets, Consumers, Pet Stores from Cambridge City Council

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Across Massachusetts, thousands of pets have been placed in loving homes thanks to the hard work of the responsible pet industry. These partnerships between prospective pet owners and local retailers are now at risk in Cambridge, thanks to a ban on the sales of companion animals that the City Council appears close to enacting.

I am the owner of dogs and fish, and Vice President of Government Affairs for an organization dedicated to placing healthy pets into forever homes. On both a personal and professional level, the Cambridge ordinance and the dishonest way it was represented to the public impinge on closely held ethics surrounding the treatment of pets. Pet stores are heavily regulated by federal and state laws, as well as industry best practices. Yet Cambridge’s City Council allowed what should have been a debate on the merits of pet sales to become a circus, with hard-working partners in retail pet care cast as villains.

Contrary to the misleading rhetoric heard in Cambridge on June 6, prospective companion animal owners who go to pet stores are buying their cats and dogs from businesses that buy only from legal, licensed breeders. Furthermore, each and every pet store in Massachusetts that sells dogs mustby state law, transparently “provide the customer with a copy of the dog’s complete medical record and a notice of the 14-day warranty provided for under Massachusetts state law.” Pet stores are also only allowed to sell dogs that have been examined by a veterinarian within seven days of the sale, and sick dogs are not allowed to be sold.

These and other high standards rightly govern applicable companion animal sales statewide. With expected passage of the Cambridge ordinance to ban all pet sales except for fish, it is now up to state lawmakers to stand up for the thousands of pet lovers who have benefited from the care and expertise at Massachusetts pet stores by passing House Bill 3212.

HB 3212 provides the proper balance between accessibility to pets and having high standards for Massachusetts stores. The bill’s provisions appropriately limit from whom retailers may get their pets. They also require several measures of transparency between retailers and prospective pet owners, and the warranty for congenital and hereditary diseases protects everyone. HB 3212 further creates consistent, high-quality standards across Massachusetts for pet breeders and retailers. 

In short, under HB 3212, everyone benefits. Unethical businesses would quickly be shuttered, while responsible businesses, pets, and consumers would thrive. The responsible pet industry is proud to support these standards to help consumers be confident they are bringing home a healthy pet that was given love and proper care prior to arrival in its forever home. And ethical providers of pet care best serve the public when those who put profits before pets are out of business. 

Unlike the Cambridge ordinance, HB 3212 also respects the simple facts about how independent retailers are critical facilitators of the human-animal bond. A recent Moore Information survey of dog owners found that retailers provide one in 14 dogs. Even more frequently, they are a source for purebred and purpose-bred dogs for people who want such a dog – and unlike rescues and shelters, which usually try to find homes for mature canines, retailers are a popular source for puppies.

Retail sales of cats and dogs help create long-term customers for stores that provide pet food, toys, grooming and veterinarian services, and training for owners and pets. The initial purchase of a pet is frequently the catalyst to a trusted relationship that can last years or decades. 

Research shows that pets and people help each other, which is why HB 3212 should be the legislature’s choice to protect pets, those who desire to have a pet in their home, and companion animal entrepreneurs. A 2015 study estimated that owning a pet reduces health care spending nationwide by $11 billion a year, and research has for years concluded that household pets are good for children and the elderly.  

Massachusetts legislators have a responsibility to stop harmful ordinances like the one in Cambridge. The responsible pet industry urges them to empower consumers, and protect pets and small businesses. To do otherwise would harm an important part of an industry that sends more than $24 million to state and local tax coffers, employs 21,000 people statewide, and adds $1.3 billion to the Massachusetts economy. 


Robert Likins is the Vice President of Government Affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. PIJAC advocates for the responsible pet trade at the local, state, and federal levels.