Mark B. Evans

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik loves dogs and is an ardent supporter of animal shelters and a champion of pet sterilization to reduce the unwanted pet population.

Bully for him. Noble causes, both.

But his passion borders on zealotry and he’s been prompted by a legion of animal welfare fanatics to propose a city ordinance that will ban the retail sale of dogs and cats in Tucson unless they come from animal shelters.

The City Council in a 6-1 vote Tuesday directed the city attorney to draft such an ordinance. If passed, the law will drive at least four Tucson puppy sellers out of business, one of which has been in business in Tucson for 25 years and another for 17 years.

Is that what voters elected Kozachik and the other council members to do – to pass laws that drive out businesses that offend their sensibilities?

Certainly not.

Animal welfare, especially when it comes to dogs and cats, is a sensitive and emotional issue. All but the most hard-hearted are horrified and repelled by animal abuse and mistreatment. It’s wrong and is rightly prohibited by state law.

None of the stores selling dogs and cats in Tucson have been accused of mistreating or abusing the animals they have for sale and all go to great lengths to ensure they are selling healthy animals. If they sold sickly puppies that died soon after purchase or were plagued with congenital defects or health problems, they would soon be out of business as no one wants to spend $1,000 for a sick dog.

Moreover, if those stores were abusing or mistreating their animals, either the state, county or city would be well within their powers to close those businesses down and seize the animals.

But that’s not the issue. The animals at those stores are fine.

Instead, Kozachik, the local and national Humane Societies and an army of shelter supporters don’t like where the dogs come from.

At least one store, Animal Kingdom at the Tucson Mall, purchases pedigree dogs from commercial brokers in other states. The Humane Society and others have dubbed those operations puppy mills and they want them eradicated. Some commercial breeders are a kennel of horrors. Many are not.

Pet sale ban promoters have convinced themselves that by ending retail pet sales in Tucson they can somehow have an effect on reducing the thousands of unwanted dogs and cats received in the metro region’s several dozen animal shelters annually. Moreover, if they can continue to convince cities across the country to pass similar bans, as about 40 already have, including Phoenix, it will somehow drive the commercial puppy breeding industry out of business.

Neither will happen.

There is a demand for pedigreed dogs in this country, a big demand that can’t be entirely met by registered breeders in each community. And that demand will be supplied. Not every state, not every county and not every city will pass the retail pet sale ban. And even if a significant percentage did, there’s still the Internet.

So if the council drives Animal Kingdom or the Puppy Place on South Wilmot Road out of business or into the county, Oro Valley or Marana, Tucsonans who want Great Danes or Great Pyrenees or Tea Cup Chihuahuas will still be able buy them, either locally or via the Internet.

What’s more, it’s laughable to claim that people paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for pedigreed dogs would subsequently abandon them in the streets to be collected by the county’s dog catchers.

The problem with pet overpopulation and abandoned animals is complex. Some animals end up in shelters because their owner died and the family didn’t want grandma’s cat. Some are cruelly abandoned in the streets by their owners. Some are given up for adoption because the animal has behavioral problems the owners are ill-equipped or unwilling to deal with.

But some of the overpopulation has cultural and economic sources. But no one wants to talk about that. Where the bulk of the unwanted dogs comes from – homes with low to moderate incomes - is rarely discussed nor are solutions for dealing with the cultural and economic aspects of pet overpopulation.

Instead, pet stores are easy targets for zealous ire and for these latter day Carrie Nations to take their metaphorical hatchets to.

There is a lot the city or county can do to control pet overpopulation. They can be more aggressive in licensing enforcement. They can be more proactive in sterilization programs. They can set higher standards for backyard breeding and have robust home inspection regimes. They can track down and punish people who abandon pets. They can have robust education and outreach programs that promote responsible pet ownership.

But all of those things come with a price. Education, inspection and enforcement programs are expensive and few are willing to pay for them. You can easily fill a room with chanting sign toters clamoring for better pet welfare in this town, but when you bring up the subject of taxation to pay for animal welfare enforcement, the room empties.

When it comes to so-called puppy mills, there’s little the city of Tucson can do, other than lobby states with lax laws to crack down, or lobby the Congress to pass more restrictive laws and hire more USDA inspectors to ensure all puppies born at commercial breeding facilities come from healthy mothers that are humanely and appropriately treated.

To that end, the city can pass rules that require minimum standards of health and well-being for all animals sold in Tucson.

That’s reasonable.

Passing laws that drive long-standing businesses who are not violating any laws and who are selling healthy animals out of business simply as a means to serve a greater jihad against commercial breeding and pet overpopulation is misguided and outrageous.

If Tucson can legislate one type of business out of business because it doesn’t like it, it can do that to others. Therefore the silence of Tucson’s business advocacy organizations on this issue is puzzling.

Tucson business owners, irrespective of the animal welfare issue but out of sheer principle, should rise up and with a loud and clear voice oppose this proposed ordinance.