California’s Bella’s Act took effect this year, closing a loophole to stop puppy and kitten mills for good

Megan Edwards

In 2017, California was the first state to take legislative action to ban the practice of puppy and kitten mills. These operations are generally large-scale commercial breeding facilities designed to sell animals for profit.  The animals are kept in are wildly unsafe and unsanitary conditions.  To produce the maximum amount of puppies and kittens to sell, female animals are impregnated several times a year.  Kept in rusted metal crates, these animals often do not see the light of the day.  Once the breeding animals

cease to be “useful” to the mills, they are usually either abandoned or killed.  Puppy and kitten mills can also harbor dangerous diseases that spread at these facilities and infect the animals.  While disease can run rampant at puppy/kitten mills, the animals generally lack adequate—or any—veterinary care.  The breeders also proliferate unhealthy hereditary conditions in the animals they sell, often passing over to the new pet owners an animal that will cost thousands of dollars in veterinary care.  There are around 10,000 puppy mills in operation in the United States, and over two million puppies from these mills are sold each year. 

California’s AB 485 made it illegal for any pet store operators to sell any dog, cat, or rabbit unless the animal was obtained from a shelter or rescue organization.  Maryland enacted a similar law in 2018 and New York passed a bill to end the retail sale of pets on July 21 of 2020, which was, appropriately, National No Pet Store Puppies Day.  Other cities around the country have passed bans on the retail sale of pets, such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Cook County in Chicago.  While individual states and cities are taking action, the federal government has failed to take any meaningful action to end the suffering of animals in these puppy/kitten mills.  The Animal Welfare Act is the federal legislation designed to regulate animal breeders, but these protections are so minimal and so under-enforced, commercial breeders can continue their inhumane practices essentially unchecked.

In California, breeders and business owners opposed AB 485 on several grounds.  First, these groups argue that rescue and shelter dogs are unregulated—that these shelter dogs come from potentially inhumane and unregulated locations and can harbor zoonotic disease, unlike dogs from inspected and licensed breeders.  Second, these groups argue that this bill takes away consumer choice.  They claim that consumers may be looking for a particular breed and will be forced to look for dogs in unsafe and unregulated markets.  The law is “push[ing] rescue animals on customers who never asked for them.”  These complaints are baseless.  As previously mentioned, the conditions animals are kept in at puppy mills are horrifying, and laws designed to protect these animals are under-enforced.  Additionally, retail pet sale bans don’t impact small, “hobby” breeders, who generally work directly with potential pet owners to ensure their animals will be placed in safe and loving homes.  Pet owners who don’t want a shelter animal “forced” upon them can still seek out designer or pure-bred animals from these avenues. 

Unfortunately, California’s AB 485 was not as successful as its supporters had hoped, as pet store owners in California found a loophole in the law.  An undercover exposé revealed that several puppy mill operations in the Midwest organized 501(c)(3) non-profit “shelters” in order to sell their puppies to California pet stores as “shelter” puppies.  These stores tricked consumers into believing they adopted shelter dogs, while charging thousands of dollars per dog as “adoption fees,” all while keeping puppy mills operational. 

To address this loophole, California Assembly members Gloria (D), O’Donnell (D), Bloom (D), Chiu (D), Boerner Horvath (D), and Waldron (R) sponsored AB 2152.  This bill, known as Bella’s Act, proposed to prohibit the retail sale of all dogs, cats, and rabbits in California.  Instead, pet stores would be able to provide a space for a public animal control agency, rescue group, or shelter to “showcase” their adoptable animals.  This Act also requires that the animals displayed for adoption be sterilized and requires the adoption fees not exceed $500.  The Act was named for a corgi named Bella, who was bred in a puppy mill and sold for thousands of dollars as a “rescue” in San Diego.  Bella experienced several health issues that required thousands of dollars of treatment. 

This Act was a product of the collaboration between several animal welfare organizations, including the San Diego Humane Society, Best Friends, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, among others.  Assembly member Todd Gloria, a known champion of animal issues, introduced the bill and advocated for it in the most trying of circumstances—during the COVID-19 pandemic, where most every non-essential bill was sidelined in order to address immediate, pandemic-related needs.  However, this bill proved relevant to the state’s health and welfare, as phony rescue groups were bringing potentially sick animals in from across state borders and exposing Californians to transmittable viruses.  Due to the incredible effort of these groups, this bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 18, 2020, and became effective on January 1, 2021.  With this new piece of legislation on the books, the state hopes to make progress toward ending the support for the inhumane puppy mill industry in the state.

One Response

  1. Just awesome. Hope it can be enforced solidly.

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