Democratic Rep. Patricia Serpa, who sponsored the bill, said she was motivated by horror stories of puppy mills, where animals are bred on a large scale in "a terrible fashion."
The bill would allow pet stores to sell dogs and cats that come from only a rescue organization, shelter or pound.
"What this legislation will do is decrease the demand for dogs and cats that are bred in this terrible fashion while increasing the demand for pets that come from animal shelters," Serpa said in a statement. "This in turn will encourage pet shops to adopt and adhere to more humane policies in the sales of cats and dogs."
But State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, who inspects pet shops and rescue organizations when complaints are filed, disagrees. Marshall said rescue shelters are increasingly using the same large-scale, commercial breeders as pet stores. He said pet stores have room for improvement, but they are better regulated than rescue organizations.
"I don't think it's going to accomplish what the sponsors had hoped for," Marshall told The Associated Press. "If the goal of the legislation is to improve the welfare of animals in these so-called puppy mills, I think it's going to fall far short."
Serpa responded to say that puppy mills should be put out of business.
Marshall said the state's Department of Environmental Management has regulations about how animals are cared for in pet stores, including requirements about temperature, insulation and sanitation. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates and inspects the commercial breeders - where stores often get their animals - and the companies that transport those animals.
The rescue trade, however, largely operates underground, Marshall said.
Scott Angevine, who owns Family Pet Smart in North Providence with his parents, says the bill would put them out of business after 34 years. He said the legislation is driven by a small number of over-zealous activists, who think all dogs in pet stores come from puppy mills.
"The whole idea of this is ludicrous to me," said Angevine, who added that he gets his dogs from a broker in Chicago licensed by the USDA . "It's a small amount of people that aren't really informed."
A Senate version of the bill is still in committee.
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