by Holly Hazard
Today I learned that Fairfax County will soon be home to a new pet shop. I was aghast to find out that it will reportedly be managed by the same people who have been arrested, but not yet tried, for the abuse of animals after an undercover investigation at the now-closed Petland store in Fairfax City.
Fairfax County animal advocates have been protesting, lobbying and testifying for more stringent pet shop regulations, ordinances and laws for years to protect both animals and consumers. Advocates addressed the County Board 6 years ago about Dream Puppy but nothing happened until the shop was raided and over 50 animals seized. The subsequent litigation cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Then, another Dream Puppy set up shop in the County.
Fairfax City has now taken the proactive approach of enacting legislation requiring permitting and strict regulation of pet shops. However, as usually happens with piecemeal, local option legislation, this simply allows bad actors to venue shop for a more attractive street corner. In this case, they found it in Fairfax County.
Working for Doris Day for over 20 years, I’m all too familiar with the horrors of puppy mills where those adorable, “pure bred” puppies are born, and their mothers left behind in filthy, stacked cages for 6-8 years to breed again, until they can’t. Then, they’re killed to make room for another breeder. So when you ask “How much is that Doggie in the Window?” the cost is that mother and thousands more. And that window? That “window” is in any one of the hundreds of pet shops throughout the country, many in Virginia, that hide the genesis of that puppy from the prospective buyers. Restrictive legislation is important because, once a family discovers a genetic defect, respiratory problem or injury in a dog who has become a family member, unlike a car or a toaster, they can’t just return the “property” for a refund.
We’ve gone to the General Assembly year after year, and, although we’ve made some inroads, we’ve come away disappointed every time. The General Assembly continues to thwart efforts to enact a state-wide ban on the selling of puppies and kittens in pet stores (unlike our neighbors in Maryland) or to at least give local jurisdictions the authority to do so themselves. They choose to follow wishes of pet store lobbyists over animal welfare and consumer advocates.
However, localities do have the ability to deter bad pet stores through permitting and inspections and Fairfax City is leading the way. Fairfax County needs to join her namesake city instead of becoming a haven for unscrupulous businesses preying on the emotions of good-hearted people. Those doggies in the window, and families in the suburbs, deserve a community that demands the highest standard of care from businesses choosing to care for animals, not business that land here because the standards are lax enough that they might get away with something.