I write this letter in hope that the City Council will reconsider banning retail pet stores in the City of San Marcos. As you are aware, I own and operate a small retail location in San Marcos called “Mini Toy Puppies.” Over the past few years, a number of animal rights groups have engaged in a vicious smear campaign in an effort to put me out of business. Unfortunately, a number of other cities have taken the activists at their word and enacted bans similar to that which San Marcos is considering. Aside from emails concerning a couple of unsatisfied customers, none of the information in the public commentary has any direct tie to my businesses.
First, I would like to emphasize my commitment to the welfare of the adorable puppies I sell. My love of puppies is what made me get into this business to begin with. The way children’s faces light up when they see those cuddly, energetic bundles of love truly warms my heart. My hope is that every puppy I sell will become a life-long companion that is embraced and loved. And, like the animal rights activists who seek to end my livelihood, I deplore “puppy mills” and have great disdain for those who mistreat animals. I, too, support the adoption of dogs from our shelters and am heartbroken that so many dogs are neglected and abused by their owners. But not every family wants to adopt a dog from the pound—and that is precisely why I am in business.
I sell approximately 30 puppies each month in San Marcos. In the 9 months since I opened shop, only a few customers have complained about their puppies’ health. I am unaware of any of my puppies dying due to congenital health problems. No one has ever told me one of my dogs ended up in an animal shelter. No one has ever told me that one of my dogs was the subject of an investigation for biting someone. Perhaps, most importantly for purposes of this discussion, not one person has produced a single shred of evidence that I obtained my puppies from an out of compliance “puppy mill.”
The activists are quick to accuse me of being a callous animal abuser, but their hurtful and defamatory remarks are completely unjustified. Protestors have stood outside my church wearing masks of my face and holding signs that say “sleazy Salinas.” My employees are routinely harassed and I have been called every name in the book. In between the hyperbole and insults, the activists frequently reference a sad example of animal abuse or neglect in some faraway place by people who have nothing to do with my business or me. They also decry the number of pets euthanized in San Diego, but they never cite any facts connecting that statistic to my business. Nor do they offer any support whatsoever showing any of my dogs made their way into the pound. I encourage the City Council to look at the dogs offered for adoption on the San Diego Humane Society’s website. (http://www.sdhumane.org/how-you-can-help/adopt/available-pets/). I doubt there will be much surprise in the fact that few, if any, American Kennel Club certified purebreds are sitting in our shelters waiting to be adopted.
There are much better ways for the City to address its concern over animal welfare than banning my entire industry. If the goal is ending puppy mills, why is the proposed ordinance’s only exception (aside from nonprofits) the sale of puppies bred and reared on the same premises? Why can’t the City just ban the retail sale of puppies obtained from unlicensed breeders selling in parking lots? All my dogs have microchips, so it will not be difficult to figure that our puppies are not found in shelters.
I can’t help but feel that my tiny pet store is being scapegoated as the source of the County’s animal control woes. If the City truly believes that my business is a risk to social welfare, I would expect that the municipal code would be filled with similar bans. After all, it seems the City’s rationale for the proposed pet store ban is: (1) that some of the puppies sold at my store might end up in an animal shelter; and (2) some of the puppies I sell come from commercial breeding establishments that are similar to ones cited in the past for poor conditions. So, if that is the standard, I invite the City to consider the following:
- Massage parlors frequently act as subterfuges for human trafficking and prostitution operations;
- Wal-Mart sells products made by child labor and slavery;
- Head shops openly sell glass pipes used for smoking crack cocaine and methamphetamine; and
- Gas stations and grocery stores sell cigarettes, which are proven to cause cancer and serve no clear social benefit.
The fact that my tiny pet store may be the subject of such a restrictive ban seriously calls into question the City’s priorities. Not one shred of evidence has been presented to this Council suggesting that my pet store is making any cognizable contribution to pet overpopulation or animal abuse.
The animal rights activists frequently cite to other Cities that have imposed similar bans throughout California, but they never show any evidence that suggests the bans are alleviating pet overpopulation. On the other hand, the activists commonly cite to their courtroom successes. But even those references amount to little more than half-truths.
The Puppies ‘N Love v. Phoenix decision out of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona was made by a trial court, not a court of appeal. It was also decided on summary judgment, not after a trial on the merits. The District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s case because it believed there was insufficient evidence that Phoenix’s pet store ban actually interfered with, or discriminated against, interstate commerce. Oceanside’s ordinance, and the ordinance proposed by the City of San Marcos, differ from Phoenix’s ordinance in that a commerce clause challenge would be considerably easier. Namely, San Marcos’ proposed ordinance allows commercial pet breeding in the City so long as the pets are reared and sold on the same premises. Oceanside’s ban has similar language. The effect here is that, ironically, only local commercial breeders are allowed to sell dogs in the City. Phoenix’s ordinance did not have that flaw. Regardless, a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has been filed in the Puppies ‘N Love case, so it is premature to comfortably rely on the District Court’s order. As I am sure the City Attorney will inform you, the Puppies ‘N Love summary judgment order is also not binding in the Southern District of California, where a challenge to San Marcos’ ban would be brought.
The Puppies ‘N Love decision also did not address whether the pet store ban was a “taking” of private property without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and, of course, Article. 1, § 19 of the California Constitution. The City’s proposed ban will eliminate an entire industry from within its borders—an industry that, although small, has operated successfully and legally for a very long time. The ordinance would effectively deprive me of all economically viable use of my property, and it is fairly clear that I am being unfairly singled out to bear the burden of social ills for which I bear no responsibility– pet overpopulation and animal abuse.
There has also been some reference to the manner in which Oceanside’s ban has affected by business. It is true that I closed my store temporarily, but that is only to allow my attorneys time to file a petition for writ of mandate in the Superior Court challenging the legality of the City’s enforcement. I have been in full compliance with Oceanside ordinance’s “source” provisions since its enactment. All of the dogs sold, and offered for sale, in my stores were obtained from hobby breeders that qualify as “non-commercial breeding establishments” under Oceanside’s ordinance. Nonetheless, Oceanside has taken the position that, because I do not purchase some of the puppies directly from “non-commercial breeding establishments,” but rather commercial brokers, that I am in violation. Nothing in Oceanside’s ordinance, or its legislative history, suggests that I am not allowed to purchase puppies from brokers who, in turn, obtain the puppies form hobby breeders. If that were the case, Oceanside’s ordinance would have restricted the exemption such that I had to “purchase” or “directly obtain” the dogs from a “non-commercial breeding establishment.” Instead, the ordinance allows me to sell puppies that were “obtained” from such establishments—which is exactly what I have been doing.
Oceanside’s ever-increasing and ever-changing requirements to proving compliance with the new ordinance has been a logistical nightmare for me, and presumably for the City. Most recently, the City wants me to sign a declaration, under penalty of perjury, specifically identifying each dog listed for sale, and describing concrete facts showing how I am personally familiar with each breeder’s operations. This requirement is absolutely ridiculous and has made it virtually impossible to prove compliance. No business owner should be required to declare, under penalty of perjury, that s/he has personally inspected and monitored its suppliers’ operations over the preceding twelve months.
I thank the City Council for giving me the opportunity to address my concerns over the proposed ordinance. I strongly encourage the Council to look closely at the facts that have been presented, and not to be swayed by hyperbole and pure emotional appeal by animal rights activists. If the City does move forward with the proposed ban, I will instruct my attorneys to file suit to protect my rights.
/s/ David Salinas.