The Dallas City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Wednesday banning the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores, a decision likely to lead one North Dallas store to close.
Dallas is the last major Texas city to enact such a regulation, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The ordinance — which allows a penalty of up to $500 for violations — passed 11-0, with four council members abstaining or absent.
Following the decision, animal advocates and residents who supported the ordinance rushed outside council chambers, some of them in tears after sharing emotional stories.
One of them, Alison Roche, had talked about her dachsund Winston when she spoke in favor of the ordinance. She said she bought the dog from a Petland in a North Dallas store for thousands of dollars — and then had to pay even more in veterinary bills.
“I would never want anyone else to go through the emotional strain that my family endured because we fell in love with a sick puppy from Petland,” she said during the meeting.
That Petland, the only store in Dallas that sells puppies, is expected to close because of the ban. Puppies account for more than three-quarters of store owner Jay Suk’s sales, according to Elizabeth Kunzelman, vice president of legislative and public affairs at Petland.
Council member Omar Narvaez said he could see the passion the store’s employees had for animals. But he also said the ban was the “right thing to do on behalf of our four-legged friends.”
The ordinance had been in the works for eight to 10 months, said Lauren Loney, the Texas state director for the Humane Society.
“But that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Loney said. “All the legwork and all the years of building up support for this … has been going on for a very long time.” She added that residents have been protesting the store for more than a decade.
Five states and more than 400 localities have enacted similar measures, said John Goodwin of the Humane Society.
Advocates say this sort of ban reduces support for puppy mills — places that breed females at every opportunity and keep dogs in small, dirty pens, then drive them in cramped quarters to stores.
They also say it would protect customers from the emotional and financial toll of spending thousands of dollars on sick dogs that are sold at inflated prices, and would instead lead prospective pet owners to rescue groups, small-scale breeders and animal shelters that are often filled beyond capacity.
But those against the ordinance said closing one store wouldn’t solve the puppy mill issue and instead would result in lost jobs and tax revenue.
Suk said his store generated $2.4 million in taxes for the city over the past three years. The store employs about 30 people, several of whom showed up in blue T-shirts to speak or show support.
“I understand that the purpose is to stop puppy mills,” Suk said. “I truly support this goal. However, we work with responsible, licensed and vetted breeders only.”
But licensing isn’t a guarantee that puppies come from humane sources, said Stacy Sutton Kerby, director of government relations at the Texas Humane Legislation Network. She said the Department of Agriculture, which licenses out-of-state breeding facilities, has “fallen down on the job.”
Some dog owners talked about being happy with their purchase, like Teresa Heidt, who said she found a “humane, kind, caring and loving” store when she decided to get a dog about three years ago.
“I’m not really fond of pet stores but what I found … it wasn’t a store, it was a community and it was filled with people, the most amazing people that work in this place,” Heidt said.
Lisa Abair, the store’s manager, said it is an “ally in the fight against puppy mills” and has a staff responsible to the well-being of their animals.
Kunzelman said Suk takes “great care of his pets” and hasn’t had any violations. She said organizations haven’t reached out to Petland about resolving customer complaints.
Last week, Suk’s company, D&J Pets, filed a defamation lawsuit against Loney in a Dallas County court, alleging that she made “deceptive and misleading” statements about the store. He is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in damages.
M. Carrie Allan, a Humane Society spokeswoman, said the group is “still reviewing the documents from D&J Pets, but we are concerned that this is just another attempt by businesses that profit at the expense of puppies to silence animal advocates.”