Pet store ban draws opposition

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Fortville Town Hall.

Daily Reporter file photo

FORTVILLE – Town officials continue to consider banning the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores after hearing from a breeder and former law enforcement officer who feel the measure would go too far.

Considerations of the ban follow a request last month from an area woman and a national animal welfare organization as a way to combat puppy and kitten mills.

Fortville currently does not have any retail pet stores, so any ban would be preventative.

Samantha Chapman, Indiana state director for The Humane Society of the United States, returned before the Fortville Town Council this week to urge members “to support a humane pet store ordinance … that would prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.”

Chapman reiterated the proposed rules don’t set out to be unfair to responsible animal breeders.

“They want to meet the person who’s buying that dog, they want to meet the family, they have questions,” she said, adding the proposal does not affect pet choice for consumers. “It’s not against breeding or anything; it’s really this middle-man sales outlet that notoriously sources from these inhumane commercial breeding operations.”

Chapman shared an ordinance with the town of Fortville last month that Carmel passed last year banning the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores in the city.

She also shared a similar ordinance the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council is considering.

“With that we expect several pet stores to relocate or find new homes, and we foresee that Fortville could be a very attractive option for some of those pet stores,” Chapman said. “…It’s a lot easier to pass an ordinance before you have this issue in your community. It becomes a burden on your local animal shelter.”

Chapman said 14 communities across the state have passed similar ordinances. She also referred to two bills being considered in the Indiana General Assembly’s current legislative session that would preempt local control of the issue, although neither have made it out of committee.

“We’ve been continuing to fight for local control on this issue,” she said, adding it should be up to local governments that fund their animal control efforts. “…It’s not for the state to get involved here.”

Jonathan Lawler, a Hancock County dog breeder and farmer, spoke on behalf of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare at the town council meeting. He breeds dogs for use in law enforcement and the military.

“They are not a companion animal,” Lawler said. “I would not sell to a pet store because my dogs aren’t for pet stores. But our (the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare) breeders do in fact have relationships with a lot of these pet stores. And don’t get me wrong – there are bad pet stores.”

There are also good ones, he continued, including those that will provide information about breeders they work with and refer visitors to the Indiana kennels where the dogs are sourced.

“So the issue that we see here is that we’re lumping everybody together,” Lawler said.

He encouraged town council members to visit multiple pet stores and talk to the Indiana Council of Animal Welfare before considering a ban on pet stores that sell cats and dogs.

“There are pet stores we won’t let our breeders sell to, and we’ll tell you which ones are the model that we want to see going forward,” Lawler told council members. “… I think it’s very important that we realize this is a gray issue, it’s not black and white, and telling somebody that they can’t open up a business when they very well might be a great part of your guys’ community I think is wrong.”

Lawler was joined by John Bolin, a Martinsville native who investigated illegal gambling on animal fighting as an undercover investigator for the Indiana Gaming Commission. Bolin also formerly worked for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals before becoming disillusioned by what he described as the society’s and other animal welfare organizations’ disrespect toward small communities. He added he feels the groups seek to take away rights to own, raise and harvest animals as well as hunt, fish and eat meat.

“I would just caution folks in giving any kind of freedom or power away to organizations that have a clear agenda that is not in the best interest of rural communities at all,” Bolin said. “… They have a big agenda. Eliminating puppy mills and pet stores is just a tiny part of it.”

Lawler submitted a proposed ordinance he wants the town council to consider that includes measures regarding humane treatment of dogs in pet stores and breeding facilities, including breeding facilities pet stores get dogs from.

Jessica Naab, a Noblesville resident who formerly lived in Fortville, first reached out to the town of Fortville about banning pet stores that sell cats and dogs. Her husband, Ryan Naab, spoke at the recent town council meeting and described Lawler’s ordinance as shortsighted, poorly written and driven by private interests more than animal welfare. He added it would set a dangerous precedent and threaten the revitalization and growth Fortville is experiencing.

“It’s not about eliminating small business,” Naab said of his, his wife’s and the Humane Society’s request to ban pet stores that sell cats and dogs, “it’s about protecting the town.”

Town council members want to continue exploring the issue.

“What I wanted to do is look both these over,” Fortville Town Council President Fritz Fentz said of the two sides, “then wait for some more public comment.”

Read the materials and ordinances the Humane Society and Naab shared here.

Read the ordinance Lawler shared here.