Around a decade ago, Kentlands resident Sara Yassin was looking for a Maltese puppy. She went online, looked at some websites and called one when she saw a puppy she liked. She began asking questions like “How big are the parents?” but was getting no answers from the owners.
This was her introduction to puppy mills, which the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) defines as a place that breeds dogs for profit while keeping them in tiny, filthy cages. “These dogs don’t receive any affection, exercise or proper veterinary care,” the website states. “And when they can no longer produce puppies, they are discarded.”
Yassin has been on a mission ever since. A volunteer district leader for the Humane Society of the United States, she was in Annapolis in late April to watch Gov. Larry Hogan sign a bill banning pet stores from selling puppies and kittens. Several young dogs up for adoption were also in attendance.
Before this law, Maryland had restrictions in place regarding puppy mill puppies. Stores were required to provide information about breeders and could not sell from breeders who had violations within the past two years from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Last year, USDA inspection reports were removed from the government site, making enforcement difficult. The new law will take effect in 2020, making Maryland the second state after California to enact a ban.
“I’m still pinching myself that we actually did it,” Yassin said. “… It’s historic that we were able to do this. It’s all about the voiceless—the animals. … It’s for the ones that suffer in the hands of greed.”
Seven pet stores in the state were affected by the bill, which was sponsored by Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery). Store owners asked Hogan to veto the bill stating they only used responsible breeders and the bill could cause residents to go online and fall prey to scam websites.
Yassin said these claims are not accurate, noting it would take her about 10 minutes to find a puppy of a particular breed from a reputable breeder. She is not against people buying puppies, but she wants people to be informed on where animals come from and their living conditions. “This bill will promote education and shut off the puppy mill industry,” she said. “… We, in Maryland, do not need to support this kind of business.”
In June, she will be heading to Ohio. A November ballot initiative is underway there, asking voters to decide on a law that would require large breeders to provide better quality of life care to their puppies. Ohio is the second largest puppy mill state; Missouri comes in first. “That would be huge if we got that on the ballot and it got voted on,” Yassin said. “These are just all major minor steps that five years ago I would never have imagined. People are demanding change.”
She also will be working in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania to appeal to lawmakers to pass laws in favor of helping dogs. “It feels really good to have an impact if that happens in (those) states,” she said. “I will never stop fighting for these dogs.”