Mayor considers veto of pet bill – By Andrea Cordle

After months of debate and emotional testimony, Grove City Council approved legislation to restrict the sale of companion animals. However, the final vote may not have been the end of the issue. Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage said he would not sign the ordinance and he will consider a veto.

On March 7, with a 4-1 vote, council approved an ordinance that states a retail pet store shall only offer for sale dogs and cats that the store has obtained from a rescue group, animal shelter or a humane society. Stage has until March 20 to decide if he will veto the legislation. The mayor said the ability to enforce this rule is one of the factors as he considers a veto.

“There has been hours of discussion and no one has talked about enforcement,” said Stage.“How are we going to enforce this?”

Stage said he will discuss enforcement with the city’s safety director and the police chief.

The ordinance was created by council members Ted Berry and Laura Lanese after the city approved a special use permit for Petland in December of 2015. The special use permit allowed the company to sell animals. Petland offers pure bred puppies and kittens for sale.

Though Petland officials say their puppies come from regulated, USDA approved breeders, some believe the animals come from high volume breeding operations,otherwise known as puppy mills.

Lanese said she had considered three things in her decision to vote for the legislation – the birthing mother, congenital or hereditary defects or dogs purchased at the store and the question of if Petland was part of the problem.

“Grove City does not need to feed into the demand of designer puppies,” said Lanese.

Lanese read several letters she received from residents complaining of congenital defects from puppies purchased at Petland. More than a dozen people spoke on the issue at the council meeting. A few spoke about health problems in puppies purchased from the company. One resident gave emotional testimony as he just had
his 9-month-old dog euthanized earlier in the day due to kidney disease.

Councilman Steve Bennett argued that animals are the same as people in that some are healthy and some have health problems. Bennett was the sole vote against the legislation.He requested a substitute ordinance that would allow pet stores to obtain animals from hobby breeders and USDA regulated breeders who have not received any violations within five years.

Petland supported Bennett’s proposal. The majority of council did not.

The legislation approved by council would also prohibit pet stores from selling companion animals younger than 8 weeks old. In addition, the store would need to maintain records stating the name and address where each dog or cat was obtained from. Those in violation could pay a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.

Grove City resident Richie Cohen Smith supports the legislation. He said society as a whole should work together to eradicate the problem of high volume breeders and pet overpopulation.

“These animals are part of our families,” he said.“Let’s choose morality over cruelty.”

Brian Winslow, director of animal welfare for Petland, said the company obtains puppies only from regulated facilities that have government oversight. He said rescue groups and shelters have little or no oversight.

“This is a catch 22 for pet stores,” said Winslow.

Petland told city officials they would buy puppies directly from the breeders, instead of using a distributor or middleman. Winslow also said the company buys from facilities that offer space for the breeding mothers, even space to play.

While many believe this legislation is one step in the right direction of eliminating puppy mills, Bennett said this is not going to do one thing to help the issue.

“This is feel good legislation,” said the councilman. “We need to strengthen this issue at the federal level.”

Other council members disagree.

“Let’s try to end high volume breeders,” said Jeff Davis.“Let’s be a piece of the puzzle that gets to the end.”

The pet store restriction legislation would take effect Jan. 1, 2017 to give Petland time to change its business model, at the Grove City location.

Petland’s Grove City store, located on London-Groveport Road, held its grand opening last month. Berry said he wants to see them stay in the city and thrive with a shelter-only model. He even offered to help the business in figuring out how to transition to the rescue or shelter model.

Stage said he is working on forming a committee to review a possible alternative to the new legislation.

“We will continue to work with Petland on a compromise,” he said.

If the mayor rejects the ordinance,council could override the veto with a super majority vote.