On an 8–0 vote on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council passed an ordinance that bans the sale of cats and dogs by retail pet stores.
That means Bloomington joins some other Indiana localities that have passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs by pet stores, which include: St. Joseph County, Columbus, Dyer, Highland, and Crown Point. The last four on that list passed the laws in 2021.
The two Bloomington stores that would be impacted by the new law are Delilah’s Pet Shop on West Third Street and Anthony’s Pets in College Mall.
The idea behind the new local law is to reduce the consumer demand for animals that is currently met by puppy and kitten mills—operations that put volume ahead of animal welfare.
This kind of ordinance is supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which says most of the dogs and cats sold in pet shops are sourced from puppy and kitten mills.
Indiana’s state director for HSUS, Samantha Morton, appeared on the Zoom video-conference call for Wednesday’s city council meeting, to speak in support of the ordinance.
Also speaking in favor was Bob Starkey, a town councilmember from Dyer, Indiana, which enacted a similar ordinance earlier this year.
The vast majority of public comment on Wednesday was in favor of the ordinance. As an alternative, an employee of Delilah’s weighed in for strengthening existing Bloomington’s existing ordinance that regulates pet stores as “commercial animal establishments.”
Over 400 localities across the country have now passed similar legislation. Five states have laws on the books prohibiting dog and cat sales by pet stores: California, Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Illinois.
Some of the recent movement by Hoosier localities to enact pet shop ordinances stems from a state law in Illinois, which was approved this year, effective in February 2022. The new Illinois law has caused some Illinois pet stores to relocate across state lines into Indiana.
Among those who spoke in favor of the ordinance on Wednesday was Allison Jacobs, a board member of the non-profit Mannered Mutts Rescue.
Jacobs told councilmembers that over the last couple of years, Manner Mutts has taken in two dogs originally purchased from Delilah’s. Mannered Mutts would not have approved the owners of the animals for adoption, Jacobs said. “The owners who purchased these dogs from these pet stores would have never passed our adoption criteria or the adoption criteria from an ethical breeder,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs continued, “Pet stores that sell animals are contributing to the homeless population of animals and Bloomington.”
Finding the commentary from Jacobs persuasive was councilmember Steve Volan, who said, “I think that any doubt I had about this ordinance was erased when I heard the comments of Ms. Allison Jacobs.”
Councilmember Sue Sgambelluri reported that she had visited both Delilah’s and Anthony’s and spoken with staff there.
Helping convince Sgambelluri to support Bloomington’s ordinance were the remarks from Dyer town councilmember Bob Starkey during public commentary.
Starkey said, “We spent a lot of time going back and forth deciding, as a body of government, what is our role in the business community.” Starkey continued, “And while we all agreed we weren’t here to pick winners and losers, we also recognize that there are some operations that we should have a say in.”
Sgambelluri said, “I do think the ethics of commerce, particularly with live animals, was central to my thinking about this.” She continued, “I appreciate Dyer town council member. Starkey’s comments that council should not necessarily be in the business of picking winners and losers—but we do have a role in ensuring that commerce is conducted in a way consistent with community values.”
The tally on the Bloomington city council’s Wednesday’s vote did not add to 9, because Matt Flaherty did not attend the meeting.