At the most basic level, good public policy aims at helping communities thrive. By definition, that means working toward less suffering, less misery.
So it’s not surprising that among more than 1,000 bills proposed during this legislative session, one that has attracted rapid sponsorship from 30 lawmakers targets a little-recognized source of considerable pain. No, it’s not complicated legislation around housing people at risk of homelessness, or figuring out the best way to educate kids. House Bill 1424 focuses on thwarting puppy mills.
These breeding farms — essentially factories for manufacturing pets like so many toasters — treat animals like products, trucking them en masse across the country to pet stores, where they frequently arrive with a host of hidden health problems that are then foisted onto unwitting customers.
That’s what happened to the Hayden family, of Puyallup, who purchased an English bulldog for $6,000 and then spent two years tending to what they describe as an unending series of medical problems that cost nearly $20,000, all told. None of it cured poor Spike, who they had to put down before he turned 3.
Similar problems with a car purchase would make one turn to lemon laws. But pet owners have fewer protections.
Washington state has made major strides in this area. Most stores that used to deal in pets from puppy mills have closed or shifted toward selling food and supplies — particularly after a 2021 law barring new businesses from selling cats and dogs sourced from large commercial breeders. But a grandfather clause allowed already-established stores to continue the practice.
The new law goes further, outright prohibiting all pet stores from selling dogs or cats in favor of encouraging would-be owners to turn toward animal rescue groups or reputable breeders. More pointedly, the new law bans pet stores from offering customers high-interest loans, which are common in an industry built on tugging at heartstrings.
Those seem like reasonable protections, limiting the availability of pets with serious and expensive health problems due to inbreeding and protecting consumers like the elderly couple in Kent who said they purchased a Chihuahua for $4,595 before realizing that the structure of their loan would bring the final cost to more than $19,000.
“It’s predatory lending, in my view, and it’s really the state’s responsibility to say this is a practice that’s not OK,” said state Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, who introduced the bill last week.
The question is whether we need a state law to achieve those ends. Pierce County and the city of Renton have already passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of pets from large-scale commercial breeders. As of Jan. 1, any dog sold in Renton for more than $1,000 must come with a signed affidavit attesting that the breeder houses a limited number of creatures, and that all are kept in clean, roomy kennels with an opportunity for exercise.
In some ways, the proposed state law looks like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. But enacting HB 1424 would surely prevent a lot of unnecessary misery — for humans and our furry friends.