BRAINTREE − Commercial sales of dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores would be prohibited under a proposed ordinance that a local pet store is fighting.
The town council's ordinance and rules committee held a recent hearing on the proposal, which is sponsored by District 3 Town Councilor Elizabeth Maglio, and tabled action until a future meeting.
Committee Chair David Ringius, an at-large town councilor, said he wanted to meet with Town Solicitor Crystal Huff and hear from the mayor's office before making a recommendation to the full council.
"I think there is more work to be done," Ringius said.
Town Council President Meredith Boericke said she wanted to hear from state regulators on the proposal. No date for a second meeting has been set.
Ringius said the committee has been getting many calls and emails in support of the proposal.
Maglio said the purpose of the proposal is to "stop the puppy mill to market pipeline."
She said many of the dogs sold at pet stores are supplied from a broker in the Midwest, so buyers don't know the animal's true origin.
The proposal would not apply to individual dog breeders in town. Maglio said breeders don't engage in large-scale sales and "they sell their dogs to people they know. Breeders care about who gets their puppies."
Pet shops would be allowed to display dogs, cats and rabbits available for adoption by a public animal control agency or animal rescue organization as long as it does not receive any fee for the display or adoption. Violations would carry a $300 fine.
Only one store in town offers animals for sale: Pet Express at South Shore Plaza. Half of the store is devoted to the display of pet food and accessories, while on the other side, puppies for sale are displayed behind large glass windows.
The town's other pet store, Pet Smart, offers adoption services.
Carl Johnson, a lawyer representing Pet Express, said it is a family-owned chain of four stores, with only the Braintree store and the one at the Square One Mall in Saugus having puppies for sale.
He said the business has operated at the mall for a decade and is licensed and "highly regulated" by the state. It sells between 50 and 100 puppies a month, and has no record of violations.
By banning commercial sales, "you are taking consumer choice away," Johnson said.
He said if the council enacts such an ordinance, Pet Express should be exempted by a grandfather clause.
Lucia Mellace-Castle, co-owner of the stores, said bans like this would put her stores out of business and her 60 employees out of work.
She said the company only deals with breeders it knows, and has been working to eliminate substandard breeders.
"We do not buy from puppy mills," she said.
She said pet stores account for only 5% of all dog sales, and that communities that have commercial sale bans don't have pet stores.
"These bans will not stop at pet stores," Mellace-Castle said. "The breeders are next."
District 1 Councilor Julia Flaherty said six states and several communities around the state have similar bans in place.
"I think this is a good idea for Braintree," said Flaherty, a committee member.
Eric Dykeman, of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the group opposes the ban.
"Not everyone wants to purchase a pet from a breeder or an adoption agency," Dykeman said.
Reach Fred Hanson at [email protected].
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