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Kentucky lawmakers advance bill blocking local bans on retail dog and cat sales

Two men in suits speak in close distance next to stone pillars
Courtesy of LRC Public Information
Senator Jason Howell (left), a Republican from Murray, speaks with Senator Brandon J. Storm, a Republican from London, on Jan. 9, 2024. Howell is sponsoring a bill that would overturn local bans on retail pet store sales.

Members of the Kentucky Senate’s Agriculture Committee passed Senate Bill 157 on Tuesday. It would require cities to allow pet stores to source dogs and cats from large-scale breeders that meet certain criteria.

Senate Bill 157 establishes some guidelines for selling dogs and cats in Kentucky. It requires retail pet stores to only sell to buyers who are at least 18 years old, and prohibits them from selling puppies and kittens less than eight weeks old.

It also mandates that stores can only get the dogs and cats they sell from animal shelters and “qualified breeders,” and prevents local governments from enacting tighter regulations on the businesses. Shop owners would be fined $500 for each pet offered for sale tied to any of the new violations outlined in the bill.

SB 157 now heads to the full Senate, where it could get a vote. If it becomes law, it would undo current regulations in Elizabethtown and Radcliff that ban retail pet stores from getting dogs and cats from breeders. Those ordinances are meant to stop stores from selling pets that come from puppy and kitten mills. Animal welfare activists accuse mills of mistreating animals and providing sick pets to stores.

The bill would also halt a similar ban in Louisville set to take effect in September. None of the local bans prevent stores from partnering with adoption agencies and shelters to offer dogs and cats on their premises.

Jason Howell, a Republican from Murray, sponsored SB 157 and chairs the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.

“The stores that sell pets have no interest at all in those pets being sick. It’s a bad look for the business,” Howell said after the committee meeting. “... I wanted to drive this back to a common set of regulations and standards.”

Howell’s bill defines “qualified breeders” as either people with three or fewer female dogs or cats used for breeding, or large-scale kennels that the USDA hasn’t issued direct violations against for the past two years.

The agency describes direct violations as incidents “having a serious or severe adverse effect on the health and well-being of the animal,” that were ongoing during an inspection. That includes significant contamination of pet food and animals with prolonged exposure to dangerous temperatures.

Critical violations, which can include infractions similar to direct violations that weren’t happening at the time of an inspection, are not mentioned in the bill’s language.

Louisville Metro Council Member Marilyn Parker, a District 18 Republican, co-sponsored the city’s ordinance banning retail pet store sales. She defended the local regulation at the Senate committee meeting Tuesday, arguing that pet stores are getting dogs and cats from mills that neglect animal welfare despite USDA regulations.

“If this bill passes, it… sets a dangerous precedent that won't be received kindly or well by Kentucky cities,” Parker said.

A representative from Petland, a major retailer that sources dogs and cats through breeders, said at Tuesday’s hearing that the company helped draft SB 157.

Another bill that would overrule local bans on retail pet sales is making its way through Indiana’s legislature.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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