Story on proposed pet shop laws raises questions

State officials explain existing animal laws

star staff

  A story which ran in the Elizabethton Star newspaper on Sunday, July 25, regarding a local animal rescue group's efforts to get laws regulating the care of animals in pet stores has caused some area residents to question whether or not the state has laws on pet stores.
  Under current Tennessee State laws, only certain pet stores are required to obtain a special license to deal in pets. State law defines a pet "dealer" as "any person who, for compensation or profit, buys, sells, transports (except as common carrier), delivers for transportation, or boards dogs or cats for research purposes or any person who buys or sells 25 or more dogs or cats in any one calendar year for resale within the state or for transportation out of the state." Under existing law, only those stores which fall under the "dealer" definition are required to have the special pet shop license.
  "They are allowed to sell up to 24 (dogs and/or cats) a year without falling under our regulations," said Dr. Philip Gordon, with the Tennessee State Veterinarian's Office, who oversees the state program which licenses pet shops. Gordon also stated that even if the pet store sold other pets such as fish, hamsters, snakes, birds or mice, the only way they are classified as a dealer is if they sell a total of more than 25 cats and dogs in a single calendar year.
  Once a store's owner has been classified as a dealer, then that store must follow regulations from the State Veterinarian's Office, which is a division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and must also be licensed through the state.
  Regulations set forth in the state law require licensed dealers to maintain records of all the cats and dogs that are purchased by the dealer, the animal's breed and sex, what if any medical care the animals needed, vaccination records, from whom they were purchased and to whom they are sold.
  When it comes to the care of the animals, Tennessee Department of Agriculture Regulation 0080-2-15-.03(1) states that "the dog and cat dealership and any animals, facilities, vehicles, equipment, or other premises used or intended for use in the business comply with the standards set forth in 9 CFR Part 3 (Title 9, Part Three of the Code of Federal Regulations)."
  Gordon stated that Tennessee does not have a set of standards in state law governing the care of the animals, but rather the state regulations require pet dealers to follow standards set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture dealing with the humane treatment of animals and animal husbandry. "We evaluate it based on the federal standards and me personally, I don't feel that was a good idea to make it that stringent," Gordon said, adding that the federal codes are so loosely written that it leaves them very open to interpretation and often makes them hard to understand and enforce.
  The guidelines set in 9 CFR Part 3 detail what type of shelter the animal must be afforded, what sorts of bedding material are acceptable, how often housing facilities are to be cleaned and sanitized as well as how frequently the animals are to be fed and watered. "Dogs and cats must be fed at least once a day, except as otherwise might be required to provide adequate veterinary care. The food must be uncontaminated, wholesome, palatable, and of sufficient quantity and nutritive value to maintain the normal condition and weight of the animal. The diet must be appropriate for the individual animal's age and condition," states the federal code. "If potable water is not continually available to the dogs and cats, it must be offered to the dogs and cats as often as necessary to ensure their health and well-being, but not less than twice daily for at least one hour each time, unless restricted by the attending veterinarian."
  On July 25, the STAR reported that members of Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Rescue were attempting to get the Tennessee State Legislature to pass state laws which would outline the care for animals in pets stores. Denise Reneau, the dispatcher for ECCAR, stated that group's intention is to get laws on the book in the state of Tennessee which would outline proper care for the animals rather than having the state law refer to federal standards. The group also wants to see all pet shops in the state to be required to have a "dealer" license rather than having a license required only of stores or individuals who sell more than 25 dogs or cats in one calendar year.
  Under the current laws, pet stores which are not required to have a dealer license through the State Veterinarian's Office are also not required to follow the guidelines set forth by the office, which leaves many pet shops in the state of Tennessee unregulated.
  However, according to Assistant District Attorney Ken Baldwin, if a pet store owner is negligent in the care of the animals in their charge, the owner could face criminal charges. "There are no specific criminal laws on pet shops," Baldwin said. "But, in so far as the regular laws that apply to animal cruelty, they apply to pet shops just like they would an individual."