By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Dennis Romero
Attorney Meyers defends all the changes, insisting that “The bill’s advocates are going on the assumption that the general public is totally ignorant as to how to take care of animals, and you have to spoon-feed [pet owners]. My real problem is that I don‘t think you have to staple a piece of paper to the tail of a bird.”
But advocates question why it is any harder for pet shops to hand out a care sheet than it is for them to give out a register receipt with every purchase. “This information is already available in most pet stores, but it’s available at a price,” said Janel Artis, legislative consultant for Senator Vincent.
Pet stores are reluctant to give up that cash source, as was made clear in a February letter from a pet-industry lobbyist to Senator Vincent. “Pet dealers already sell books and offer brochures on various species of animals kept as pets,” the lobbyist wrote. “Why should this info now being sold be given away for free?”
Petco had been the bill‘s only industry backer, and even hosted the press conference introducing the bill at the a company’s Westwood store. In attendance were animal advocates as well as Jan and Mickey Rooney. (The Rooneys‘ granddaughter had bought several animals that no one in the family knew how to care for, and the pets ended up at shelters.)
The event generated some much-needed good publicity for Petco, which has been criticized by activists for such alleged practices as killing sick animals by sticking them in the store freezer -- to avoid the expense of treating them or euthanizing them properly. Petco insists that its stores comply with all laws and ethical principles.
As for the pet-store bill, Petco supports the industry-friendly modifications. “We’re not out here as a lone wolf on any of these matters,” explained Don Cowan, Petco‘s director of communications. And late word is that Petco may now actively oppose the legislation unless further concessions are made.
The bill has been so emasculated already that the pet industry has switched from opposing the bill to a position of neutrality. “They gave us a big chunk of the amendments we wanted,” said Meyers. “Once they agree to 90 percent of what you want, it’s very difficult for you to continue to raise hell.”
Wal-Mart, however, recently came out against the bill, arguing that it‘s not cost-effective to generate care instructions for goldfish, given the small profit margin on each. And the company has hired a top-shelf lobbyist to press its point.
It sounds almost comical, but Senator Vincent seems determined to hold this particular Maginot Line. “We’re not making special allowances for goldfish,” insisted Janel Artis, Vincent‘s aide.
Some advocates concede that the bill’s main accomplishment may be prying open the door, so that something more substantial could be accomplished later. “I wish the bill was stronger,” said McGrath. “I get depressed that it isn‘t. The art of legislation is to do what’s possible.” The pet industry, she added, “really doesn‘t care whether the sale of an animal is to a good home or not,” especially when dumping a pet means a consumer is free to buy something else.