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Victoria's Law would keep puppy mill dogs, cats, rabbits out of Pennsylvania pet stores

Shelly Stallsmith
York Daily Record

Grace Kelly Herbert didn’t go to the farm expecting to rescue Victoria.

The president of Finding Shelter Animal Rescue was at the farm to rescue Pippa, who had been deemed useless and unproductive by the breeder. When Herbert found Pippa, she saw another crate that was the same size used to barely hold the cockapoo.

Wedged inside was Victoria, a 90-pound German shepherd.

“It took taking the top of that crate off in order to get her out, she was so cramped,” Herbert said Wednesday at a news conference to discuss Victoria’s Law, a piece of legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-28) and Lisa Boscola (D-18). If passed, Victoria’s Law would prevent the sale of puppy mill dogs, cats and rabbits in Pennsylvania pet stores.

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Victoria and Pippa were bred for 10 years at that farm, a puppy mill. Pippa gave birth 18 times.

Victoria delivered more than 150 puppies, passing along to all of them the incurable genetic disease that led to her death. She had mobility issues because of her disease, but still the owner was reluctant to have her stop producing, Herbert said.

Phillips-Hill said it is dogs like Victoria and Pippa, and the offspring that could carry illness because of overbreeding that led to this legislation.

“Pets become part of peoples’ families,” Phillips-Hill said. “They buy a dog or cat, not knowing about an illness they might have. And then the pet gets sick.”

Phillips-Hill, who said her family has had dogs in the past, but has two cats right now, said the better alternative is rescue, which is why Wednesday’s news conference was held at the York County SPCA in her home district.

“The animals in there are taken care of, you know what you are getting,” she said. “They take wonderful care of their animals.”

Phillips-Hill said her bill isn’t designed to penalize the people whose dog is accidentally impregnated, or the legitimate breeders who are registered and follow state guidelines. This bill is specifically designed to shut down the puppy mill to pet store pipeline.

“The other thing this bill will do is provide another level of transparency to consumers,” York County SPCA executive director Steven Martinez said. “Licensed breeders will be required to include their license number on all advertisements. That helps consumers and law enforcement officials.”

Phillips-Hill announced Wednesday that Senate Bill 234 is now cosponsored by 27 senators, which is more than half the Senate.

“Ideally, we want to see this get out of committee, through the Senate, through the House and onto Gov. Wolf’s desk before the end of this session,” Phillips-Hill said.

Pennsylvania has a reputation for being a puppy mill state. Billboards promoting adoption instead of puppy mill purchase can be seen on many major highways around the state.

And the state has some puppy mill laws in place. Breeders must be licensed, and the facility inspected at least once a year. If a puppy or dog becomes sick within a certain period of time and requires treatment, the seller is responsible for reimbursing the dog owner.

Victoria’s Law would change how pet stores obtain dogs, cats and rabbits for their businesses. Because this law would also apply to breeders outside of Pennsylvania, dogs, cats and rabbits could not be brought in to sell in state pet stores.

And because pet stores will only be able to source dogs from rescues that are registered as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, unlicensed breeders will not be able to create a rescue in an attempt to circumvent the proposed law.

Shelly Stallsmith is a trends reporter for the York Daily Record. She can be reached at mstallsmith@ydr.com or followed on Twitter at @ShelStallsmith.