Position Statement on SB 44 (Victoria's Law)
By: Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association
The PVMA issues the following statement regarding our concerns and opposition to Senate Bill 44, which would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits by pet stores in Pennsylvania.
• The PVMA is in support of efforts to directly improve the humane treatment of dogs, cats and pet rabbits in Pennsylvania, particularly through increased strengthening, funding and enforcement of our existing Pennsylvania Dog Laws. We support the enforcement of these regulations against commercial breeders, rescues, shelters, or any bad actors who are selling, breeding, kenneling or housing dogs, not in compliance with these important laws. Senate Bill 44 does not impose any new or stiffer penalties to go after unlicensed kennels, which will do nothing to stop them from continuing their illegal operations.
• Many of our members are actively engaged in the practice of veterinary medicine in the state. We are in the trenches, observing first-hand the sometimes appalling and irresponsible keeping, kenneling and breeding of pets. The reality is these woeful animals can and do come from anywhere, including private breeders and rescues, and not solely from pet shops. Campylobacter and parvovirus outbreaks can and do occur anywhere that animals are kenneled, or where new animals are constantly introduced to a population, regardless of where the pet is purchased or adopted.
• Many unhealthy pets are bred here in Pennsylvania, by illegal, unlicensed breeders. But make no mistake – many of these sick and ill-treated animals enter the state through internet sales, brokers, agents and rescues. Our fear is that more animals will come into Pennsylvania from out of state breeding sources and animal auctions, over which the Commonwealth's Department of Agriculture has little to no control.
• PVMA is concerned that prohibiting the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores will push consumers further into the grasp of online sales. These online sites engage in the most misleading consumer practices and false advertising. And dog brokers are extremely well-versed in hoodwinking consumers into thinking they are buying from a private, responsible breeder or from a reputable, accredited rescue when nothing could be further from the truth. There should be very stiff criminal penalties imposed on organizations that are falsely representing animals as rescues, as this is another way in which consumers are being defrauded.
• The PVMA is concerned with the lack of data that shows retail pet stores are selling animals from "puppy mills". At the end of the day, we are the healers of your beloved dogs, cats and other pets, but we are also scientists, engaged in the practice of medicine, where evidence and fact must have a place. Simply put, there is no real evidence or data that only irresponsible, or bad breeders sell their pups to retail pet stores. There are no hard facts to support the claim that banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores will make any difference to illegal kennels or cut off their source of revenue.
• Senate Bill 44 has inherent enforcement problems, as the bill does not clarify who or what entity will be responsible for enforcement. In 2010, the Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania's law makers, and many concerned associations and interest groups came together to strengthen Pennsylvania's Consolidated Dog Laws. It took almost three years for this collaborative process to come to fruition. Since then, the Department of Agriculture has been doing a valiant job with the resources it has. But the Department needs more – more funding, more enforcement officers, and clear, straightforward laws that are easier to enforce. Senate Bill 44 is a distraction from the task at hand, which is to punish and shut down the kennels that are acting illegally or without a license. If there is a problem with pet stores selling pets, it is better addressed through existing laws rather than prohibiting the sale of a class of animals.
Here is what the PMVA is putting our energy behind:
• PVMA is focusing efforts on Pennsylvania's existing Dog Laws. Bad breeders should be held accountable under the law. Irresponsible breeding practices should be regulated and subject to fines and criminal prosecution if the neglect and illegality is wanton and repeated. It is in the best interests of Pennsylvanians to improve and to strengthen the laws already in place.
• PVMA supports improved funding of the Dog Fund through increased kennel licensing fees and fines and modernization of the licensing systems.
• PVMA supports expanding the education and training of humane officers and law enforcement, as well as the public.
• PVMA recognizes that animals can suffer from inhumane conditions which may lead to health and behavioral issues and that this is not limited to breeding facilities. These issues may exist in sheltered and rescued animals, and we cannot presume that all health and behavioral issues will be known nor that this legislation will curtail that. Adopting a rescue animal comes with the same unknowns – often more unknowns – as these animals may come from out of state breeders and public auctions. It isn't only about the number of dogs, but provided and the standards that these facilities are required to meet that is at issue for many of us deeply concerned about animal welfare.
As the healers, advocates and caretakers of animals, PVMA's members are fortunate to share our lives with them. We are honored that the public entrusts us with the happiness and health of these tremendously important members of the household. Sometimes, at the end of the day, the love of a pet is all you may have to come home to. We owe it to the Commonwealth's citizens and pets to do the very best we can for them. For us, that means taking the most direct approach, with the limited resources at our disposal.
M.J. McNamee, J.D., V.M.D.
Chair of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs