San Marcos leaders are pushing residents towards animal shelters and reputable breeders by eliminating the option of pet store purchases.
A new city ordinance contains terms that would effectively ban the retail sale of puppies and kittens in San Marcos. The goal of the proposed legislation is to stop the shipment of pets from out-of-state and large commercial breeders. Instead of obtaining puppies from breeding facilities, pet stores would be required by law to source their animals from local shelters and rescue organizations.
The pet store regulations would be added as Section 6.065 to the existing animal ordinance, in addition to a large number of amendments unrelated to pet stores. It is primarily these other subsections to the animal ordinance, such as stray holds and spay and neuter requirements, that have prevented City Council members from reaching a final decision. During a second reading on Nov. 15, San Marcos council members decided to postpone their discussion of the ordinance until their first meeting of 2023 which will take place Jan. 3 both in person at City Hall and online.
If the ordinance passes at that time, it will make San Marcos the 15th city in Texas to enact a ban on the retail sale of puppies. Texas began the process of setting this standard statewide with House Bill 1818 passing the House and Senate, but no further action has been taken since May of 2021. Advocates hope that their continual success at the local level will lead to Texas becoming the seventh state to pass statewide regulations.
The push for this change began within the San Marcos community with the help of a national organization called Bailing Out Benji. This nonprofit researches pet stores and puppy mills throughout the nation, advocating for animals and educating the public.
Bailing Out Benji volunteer Shannon Graham helped to pass pet store ordinances in San Antonio and New Braunfels and is now putting her support behind the San Marcos effort. Her initial petition calling for action received around 5,000 signatures from local community members. Graham urges people to look beyond the “cute puppies in the window.”
“The parent dogs are treated as livestock, yet their offspring are sold as companion pets and marketed as coming from the best breeders,” Graham said.
However, some members of the San Marcos community have expressed their concerns about the effects of passing this ordinance.
At the first City Council meeting that addressed the proposal, held on Nov. 1, several customers of a local pet store called Pick a Pet came to share their positive experiences and oppose the regulations. Unlike chain pet shops in surrounding cities that have closed due to what advocates call humane ordinances, Pick a Pet is the first store of its name. Since its opening at the San Marcos outlet mall on Nov. 6, 2021, the business has gained a loyal base of customers.
Luis Garcia, a customer of Pick a Pet, said the store has brought warmth not only to his own family through the addition of a puppy six months ago, but to the city of San Marcos, as well.
“Closing this business would truly rob the future families from experiencing the same joy and happiness that my family has experienced,” Garcia said. “I strongly believe that Pick a Pet closing will be a step back for our community.”
Additionally, consumers worry that the closing of the store would eliminate a safe and viable option for those who are looking for a specific breed or temperament in their pet.
Ashley Brinkman, Director of Government Affairs for the Pet Advocacy Network, warns that the ordinance may be well-intentioned, but it will not stop the backyard breeders who are the real problem.
“What this retail pet sale ban will do in reality is run a reputable business out of town, eliminating a transparent and trusted source of pets in San Marcos,” said Brinkman. “Without pet stores to personally interact with and select their new pet, families may turn to online sources where they can fall victim to puppy scams.”
San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter
Another area of discussion surrounding the ordinance is the positive effect it may have on the overpopulation problem in Texas animal shelters.
San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter (SMRAS) has faced the same intake surges that shelters across the state face, forcing them to house animals is temporary pop-up crates. Overcapacity has SMRAS asking the community for help with adopting, fostering, donating, and volunteering. Naturally, some residents question whether a business like Pick a Pet would contribute to the problem by adding more animals into the mix.
Like many issues, this topic has become highly polarized and simplified with sides dividing into those who support breeders and those who preach “adopt don’t shop.” However, the “Go Humane” effort behind the pet store ordinances is more complicated. Their aim is to protect animals by exposing inhumane puppy mill operations, not to stop the supply of pets to loving homes. SMRAS has their own plans to combat issues of overcapacity that do not involve the elimination of pet stores.
This is one point Councilman Mark Gleason brought up in opposition of the ordinance. If the change wouldn’t benefit the shelter, he doesn’t see why they should remove an option for those searching for a pet.
“The idea is that we hear that this is going to get additional dogs adopted out of the shelter. I don’t think that’s the case. Most people going to these shops are looking for specific breeds that are not going to adopt a dog,” Gleason said.
As far as they know, associates of Pick a Pet said that none of their animals have ended up in local shelters in the year they’ve been open. Even Graham agrees that the opening of Pick a Pet is not directly correlated with the shelter’s overcapacity issues, but its presence may show effects in the long term.
“These pet stores are selling these puppies unaltered, so as time goes on, I think we’ll start to see an increase as those dogs are having puppies and having puppies” Graham said.
What This Means for Pick a Pet
If the ordinance passes in January, Pick a Pet will likely have one year to adjust to the change. This will require them to either adopt a business model that relies on pet supplies and services, collaborate with local shelters and rescues, or shut down. PetSmart, Petco, The HindQuarters Pet Supply, Shaggy Dog Market, and Tractor Supply are all pet stores who successfully operate in the San Marcos area without the retail sale of puppies.
Any San Marcos resident who wishes to offer their input on the proposed ordinance may speak at the City Council meeting on Jan. 3, 2023, at City Hall in person or online by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Speakers can review the City Council meeting instructions and rules to prepare. Those who are unable to attend may also email City Council Members directly to offer their support for or against any legislation proposed in the city.