3 Hits and a miss on animal laws

Bellevue Borough took several steps closer to becoming a “compassionate community” when council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, adopted four ordinances designed to protect animals.They will have to revisit one of those ordinances, however, as officials made changes that defeated the purpose of a law regulating pet store sales of animals.

The ordinances all have been adopted by the City of Pittsburgh, working with Humane Action Pittsburgh. The group’s goal now is to have similar laws adopted in municipalities throughout the region until the state legislature can be convinced to take similar action at the state level.

The first ordinance requires that anyone advertising the sale of an animal must include the name and address of the breeder, as well as any state or federal license numbers, in the advertisement.

The second prohibits entertainment performances by wild or exotic animals in the borough. Exceptions are made for zoos and others who use wild animals as “ambassadors” for educational purposes. The ordinance also prohibits anyone from capturing or harming a wild bird.

The third ordinance clarifies and closes a possible loophole in the state’s animal welfare laws. Pennsylvania recently adopted a law that specifically prohibits the outdoor tethering of dogs for more than 30 minutes when temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or above 90 degrees. While some animal welfare experts maintain that the state’s animal welfare laws are sufficient to cover instances in which a dog is left outdoors during inclement weather regardless of tethering, others have chosen to enforce the new state law only in cases in which the dog is tethered.

The ordinance adopted by Bellevue Council makes it clear that a dog cannot be left outside in inclement weather even if it is in a fenced-in yard and not tethered.

Enforcement of the ordinance does require some discretion, as humane agents in Pittsburgh have found. The reality is that certain breeds of dogs not only thrive in extremely cold temperatures, but are bred to do so.

The final ordinance is where council hit a snag, primarily because officials appeared uneducated on the way animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits are bred and sold in the United States.

While commercial breeders are required to be licensed by the U.S, Department of Agriculture, that licensing in no way has stopped the proliferation of “puppy mills,” commercial breeding operations conducted purely for profit, often at the expense of animals that live in inhumane environments, are overbred, and do not receive proper veterinary care.

Investigations by the Humane Society of the United States reveal that the USDA has failed to revoke the licenses of kennels that have repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In the past year, under the Trump administration, the USDA has even begun redacting the names and addresses of breeders issued citations.

There are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills operating in the U.S., according to the HSUS, fewer than 3,000 of which are regulated by the USDA. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in the number of puppy mills per state.

Some 194,000 dogs are kept solely for breeding, and an estimated two million puppies are sold by puppy mills every year in the US.

The HSUS, therefore, began a campaign to convince pet stores and communities to prohibit the sale of commercially bred pets in stores, instead encouraging the stores to work with animal welfare agencies to promote the adoption of shelter animals.

The ordinance considered by Bellevue Council Tuesday night was designed to place just such a prohibition on any pet stores that might open in Bellevue. Some council members, however, believed the law was too strict in that it did not allow for non-puppy mill breeders to sell their animals in pets stores.Council unanimously approved an amended ordinance that allowed “licensed breeders” to provide animals for sale in pet stores.

The problem is that, according to the HSUS, the chances of a reputable breeder allowing his animals to be sold to strangers in a pet store are practically nil.

As one New York pet store owner told the HSUS: "I have found that there is no way for me to sell puppies from my retail establishment that does not contribute to the suffering of both the parent dogs and the puppies bred from them. Reputable breeders with high standards of care do not sell their puppies to ANY pet stores for resale."

Although Mayor Emily Marburger brought the ordinances to council, she remained silent during the discussion that allowed the ordinance to be amended. The problems with the ordinance were pointed out by an animal welfare activist at the meeting, who suggested that the mayor veto the ordinance. Marburger later announced that she would veto the ordinance, and council president Tom Hrynda agreed that the ordinance should go back to committee for changes.