Pet store-related state legislation is making its way through committees, worrying some animal advocates.
This bill would create the Tennessee Retail Pet Store Consumer Protection Act.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Becky Massey, who represents part of Knox County, described the bill as business- and consumer-friendly and said that, in other states, pet stores have invested a lot of money to come into a community only to have local ordinances stop them from operating.
Humane Society of the United States District 3 leader Maryann Davis said that local ordinances and societal changes have helped put a stop to dogs being sold at pet stores because of worries that the animals come from puppy mills. When that happens, consumers can be sold animals that are unhealthy, in addition to the problem of having dogs raised in potentially inhumane circumstances.
Massey said that this bill will protect customers from that, while Davis argued that the proposed legislation promotes puppy mills.
If approved, the act would require that pet stores pay if they sell an unhealthy animal. Stores would be required to either pay for treatment or give a refund.
"There has never been protection for the consumers," Massey said. "You've got single moms that may want to buy a purebred and [they] might not feel comfortable going to the next county over to look at somebody's home. The options need to be available, depending on how you want to go about doing pet ownership."
Consumers would have 14 days to determine if the animal is unhealthy, according to the bill's summary.
If approved, the law would pre-empt local governments "from enacting or enforcing a law, ordinance, resolution or regulation that regulates or prohibits any conduct in the area covered by this bill."
The purchaser would get to choose the vet and get reimbursement for "the reasonable cost of veterinary services, in an amount up to the purchase price of the dog ... for the purpose of treating the condition that made the dog unfit for purchase."
Davis said the bill takes away local authority to investigate pet stores if they operate inappropriately.
She also said it's unrealistic to think a pet store is going to take a sick animal back.
Massey acknowledged that some people, such as Davis, worry that this legislation would promote puppy mills.
"If you look at the big picture, it's protecting puppy millers," Davis said. "A good breeder would never sell a dog to a pet store."
But Massey, who said she is a dog lover, said it would be bad business for pet stores to sell animals from puppy mills or inhumane breeders.
"A pet store would go out of business if they went with a breeder that does those kinds of things," she said.