Dana Gentry

(Nevada Current) The Clark County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance designed to reduce demand for puppy mills, which force captive dogs to produce multiple litters a year for as long as a decade, often in squalid conditions that jeopardize the health of the mother and her pups.

Commissioner Michael Naft sponsored the ordinance, which allows pet stores in unincorporated Clark County to sell only animals received from shelters and rescue organizations.

Naft said he agreed with citizens who complain the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not adequately protect dogs in puppy mills, adding he’d “love to see” solutions to puppy mills at the state and federal levels. “That’s not before us today.”

“Clark County is generally accustomed to being the leader on issues in the state,” Naft said, adding that in this case, the county is following the lead of some 400 municipalities that have adopted similar bans, including North Las Vegas and Reno. Pet store sales remain legal in Henderson and the City of Las Vegas, which approved a ban but repealed it in 2017.

“I invite my colleagues in the cities yet to act, to consider a similar policy,” Naft said after the meeting.

The ordinance is also intended to help stem overcrowding in shelters. Southern Nevada, like much of the nation, is in the midst of an animal overpopulation crisis.

“It is especially important to pass this law now as our own municipal shelter, the Animal Foundation, is struggling to keep its doors open,” Las Vegan Bryce Henderson said during public comment. “You currently have to make an appointment to turn in a stray dog. As of this morning, that appointment is six weeks away.”

Clark County Animal Control officials asked California agencies whether a similar state ordinance reduced shelter populations in that state. It hasn’t, and in some cases, intakes are up since the law passed, and since COVID-19 prompted a slew of animal adoptions and subsequent surrenders.

“Many of the agencies specifically pointed out that due to the pandemic, there’s been an increase in animals and that’s also consistent with what we’ve seen here locally,”  said Jim Anderson of Clark County Animal Protection Services.

But shelter dogs and cats are making their way to pet stores in the Golden State, Anderson said.

Speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting complained that pet stores are allowed to sell animals that have not been sterilized, further contributing to overpopulation. Rescues and shelters are prohibited from releasing animals that have not been spayed or neutered.

Naft said the ordinance is the “humane thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do,” noting the County spends $2.6 million a year on the Animal Foundation, the municipal shelter,  and $3.7 million a year on its Animal Control Department. ”I think we need to, from a policy perspective, make sure that we’re not both funding the problem and funding the solution here.”

Pet store owners and their supporters suggest that shelter dogs are dangerous rejects and that only stores can provide healthy, purebred puppies, a notion dispelled by animal activists.

“Animal shelters, contrary to what the pet stores are saying, are not just filled with pitbulls and chihuahuas,” Lori Heeren, executive director of the Nevada Society for the Protection of Animals, told commissioners. “In the last month, NSPCA has taken in purebred Alaskan Huskies, German Shepherds, an English bulldog, a Maltese Scottish Terrier, a Chinese shar pei, a Doberman Pinscher, even a pug puppy and a French bulldog puppy – all given up by their owners. Sometimes these owners even give us the receipt from this puppy to show its value and usually the reason for surrendering the puppy is because they were not ready for it.”

“I understand that this will affect families’ livelihoods,” Heeren said of the ordinance. “But your pet store puppies are ending up in our shelter, and after the puppy stores have collected their checks, our small nonprofit has to fundraise to pay for them.”

“We need to unify instead of dividing and eliminating sources,” said pet store owner Joe Shamore, who argued that pet stores can’t be profitable without selling animals.

Some 70% of U.S. households have at least one pet. Spending on pet products and services reached $123.6 billion last year – $1,480 per dog and $902 per cat, according to the American Pet Care Association. Large retailers such as PetSmart and Petco do not sell dogs and cats but work with rescues to find homes.

Naft thanked former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who attempted to pass a similar ordinance six years ago.