PHOTO: Eric Swafford, the Humane Society’s state director for Tennessee, was one of many animal advocates who filled City Hall during a Tuesday night work session to support a bill that would ban commercial breeders from selling dogs and cats in Franklin. / Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
On Tuesday night, Franklin’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen went to the dogs, with a room packed full of people supporting a bill to ban sales of commercially bred dogs and cats in city limits.
Only a few actual dogs were on hand at the meeting; among them, Ben, a pit bull mix from the Williamson County Animal Center.
Many humans crowded into the room, wearing highlighter green stickers to show their support for the bill.
The issue first came to Ward 1 Aldermen Bev Burger’s attention in February, after a multi-state bacterial disease outbreak was linked to Petland pet stores sourcing puppies from a commercial breeder.
The Humane Society’s volunteer state political director Ashley Cunnyngham worked with Burger on a bill that would ban the sale of cats and dogs in Franklin pet stores.
Instead, people would have to adopt pets from the animal center or from ethical breeders only, who many animal advocates say do not sell to pet stores.
Though some stores claim USDA certification, Cunnyngham and others said in a June meeting that measure doesn’t accurately reflect the safety of the environment.
Under the bill brought forward Tuesday, pet stores currently operating in the city would be “grandfathered” in, allowing them to continue operating without consequences.
Meanwhile, a puppy mill bill is back on the work session agenda tonight. Ben from @WCAnimalCenter is here in support of the initiative, which would ban commercial breeders from selling dogs and cats in Franklin. pic.twitter.com/uaq1ik3pLZ
— Brooke Wanser (@Bwanser_writes) October 23, 2018
Ward 2 Alderman Scott Speedy said he was “philosophically opposed to having additional local regulation on existing businesses or businesses that want to come in and compete in this space, when they’re already licensed, inspected and regulated by the state of Tennessee, as well as the federal USDA.”
Speedy said he thought Franklin residents should have a choice of where they want to purchase their pets, and that the animal center and shelters shouldn’t have a “monopoly.”
“No one here is in support of puppy mills,” he said. “I believe there are responsible breeders out there.”
“It’s a local ordinance to ban the otherwise lawful, private commercial activity of a business and a customer,” said Alderman Dana McLendon.
“It’s proposed as a solution to what is undoubtedly a real problem and a widespread problem. But I have a hard time deciding that it is appropriate use of government power to ban the otherwise lawful activity of private parties and retail stores.”
He made the comparison of banning pet sales to banning items like cigarettes, beer and wine, and adult books.
“Opposing this ordinance is not the same thing as supporting a puppy mill,” McLendon added. “Opposing this ordinance, to me, is about not using the power of the government to ban what is otherwise lawful on behalf of everyone.”
Still, McLendon said he could get behind a part of the ordinance that would require a commercial retailer of dogs and cats to disclose on scene exactly where the animal came from.
“If a retailer in Franklin is sourcing dogs from an inhumane place that has been documented to be doing inhumane and cruel things to make a buck, then the market should expose them, and then most people will not then do business with them.”
“I do see this as a public health situation,” said Alderman Brandy Blanton, disagreeing with Speedy and McLendon.
“Retail sales of dogs and puppies are waning, absolutely,” said Burger. “We are a pet city,” she added, noting her continued support of the bill as a health and lifestyle concern.
The community speaks
Several citizens spoke during public comment, from children whose families foster pets to veterinarians.
Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) supported the ordinance, referring to a bill pushed by Petland last year which would provide funds for veterinarian expenses to people who purchase defective dogs from retail pet stores.
But Eric Swafford, Tennessee’s Humane Society director, said the bill would also prohibit cities from passing regulations about pet stores.
Swafford said the bill was killed in the House last year, thanks to Whitson and other Williamson County legislators, but that it was likely to come back up as Petland plans expansions outside of Knoxville.
“My concern is the next General Assembly could take away a local government’s ability to regulate retail pet stores that sell companion animals,” Whitson said.
Cunnyngham also spoke in favor of the bill, holding a photo of Goblin, a dog rescued in Maury County this summer from a puppy mill.
“Should this cruelty be just another cost of doing business in Franklin?” she asked.
“These are animals who don’t have a voice. Cigarettes, wine, they don’t need a voice,” said Animalia veterinarian Dr. Lizzie Moser.
John Thompson, the owner of Franklin’s Pawfect Puppy pet store, was the lone dissenting voice in a room of bill supporters.
In spite of negative media coverage and reviews of his store selling sick animals, Thompson said his business was still doing well.
“I’m not against you guys passing some type of ordinance that regulates pet stores,” he said, but noted that sweeping legislation would be bad for local businesses.