New Shakopee Pet Store Ordinance: Victory or Loss for Animals?

Photo of emaciated boxer pup at Shakopee PetlandMinnesotans may remember the attention given to Shakopee’s Eagle Pet Center pet store when they were featured on the news because their animals were living in deplorable, yet supposedly legal conditions. The media attention sparked an outcry from the community and many local animal advocates who urged the Shakopee City council to adopt a new law that would prevent such rampant animal abuse by pet stores that sell live animals.

ARC has been protesting the Petland store in Shakopee for three years through our Minnesotans Exposing Petland campaign. We offered to provide ordinance language used by other cities which would have prevented these types of abuses. But the committee working on the ordinance wasn’t interested. Instead, they chose to include the owners of Petland in their discussions and allow them to help draft the new law, which allows them to continue with business as usual. Keith Streff, cruelty investigator for the Animal Humane Society (AHS) was also in on drafting the new law.

So nothing will actually change for animals bought and sold by Shakopee pet stores under the new law. Petland will still be able to buy from puppy mills and the only language about the humane treatment of animals in the new ordinance says that “All state laws governing cruelty to animals and humane treatment of animals shall be adhered to and all operations must enhance or maintain the health and welfare of all animals in the establishment.”

See the picture of the emaciated boxer pup accompanying this article. This pup was for sale in the summer of 2012 at the Shakopee Petland store. He came from Top Watch in Iowa, which according to the Humane Society of the United States, is one of the top 5 puppy mills in the country with 250 adult dogs and 121 puppies at one point in 2011. This puppy had only gained 4 lbs. in 5 weeks. A cruelty investigator from AHS responded to a complaint about the pup’s condition, told the store to put the pup on higher fat food, let him eat at will, and get him vet checked. When asked whether Petland was following through on the recommendations the investigator did not know, was not interested in going back to make sure the pup had been vet checked, and recommended contacting Petland directly for this information.

This is why the Animal Rights Coalition does not favor a regulationist approach to animal abuse. The new law is being celebrated by many as a victory for animals, when in fact it was a transparent attempt to placate those upset by the conditions at Eagle Pet Center by doing the absolute minimum needed to satisfy them and get them to go away. Eagle Pet Center closed its doors before the new ordinance was enacted, and as a result of the new law, nothing will actually change for animals bought and sold by Shakopee pet stores. Yet the impression left with the public is that “the problem” has been resolved.

ARC is a leader in the national campaign against Petland to get them to change their business model. But while most other groups focus exclusively on the puppy mill connection to Petland stores, we expand the conversation to include issues such as the problems inherent with viewing animals as products or inventory to be bought and sold, the direct relationship between the breeding of animals for sale and the numbers of homeless animals killed in shelters every year, and the impact of regarding animals with “papers” as more socially valuable than animals without a certificate. We encourage people to shop at pet supply stores that do not sell live animals as opposed to redirecting them to other big chain pet stores, because any time we shop at stores that sell live animals to anyone who is willing to pay the asking price, without background or reference checks, we are supporting a business that directly contributes to the killing of healthy animals in shelters.

This sad story is a good reminder to be critical when assessing anything presented as a “victory” for animals. Often these victories are not actually for animals, but for the benefit of people or companies trying to look good to animal lovers.