Politics & Policy

San Fran’s Pet Cause

Why is a municipal commission trying to ban sales of dogs, cats, and goldfish?

The city of San Francisco takes its name from Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Francis has been an effective advocate lately, because the municipal Commission of Animal Control and Welfare has proposed a new law to ban almost all pet sales within city limits.

On June 9, the commission approved a statement, which recommended that the Board of Supervisors “pass an ordinance requiring the humane acquisition of pets in San Francisco.” Residents would no longer be able to purchase dogs, cats, birds, small animals, reptiles, amphibians, or aquarium fish — except from small breeders. Instead, they would have to adopt.

The problem with pet stores, animal-rights advocates argue, is they’re driven by profit. In a copy of the commission’s talking points, obtained by National Review Online, it warns:

Large-scale, commercial breeding operations add millions of animals to the system. These animals are sold for profit, leading to many documented humane issues such as: overcrowded living conditions, lack of socialization, overbreeding, in-breeding, poor veterinary care, and poor quality of food and shelter.

“The profit motive gets in the way,” explains Philip Gerrie, secretary of the commission. We humans overlook our impact on our animal neighbors. Take goldfish, for example. “The water gets dirty very quickly,” Gerrie warns, “and people consider them throw-away animals.” The commission hopes to start a discussion “about how we treat other animals that aren’t human.”

“It’s not going to work,” says John Chan, manager of Pet Central, one of only four stores in the city that sells dogs. “Pet sales will be banned in San Francisco, but in all the cities around it they won’t. And you still can get pets from the Internet.”

Chan accepts the law’s premise that there’s an overpopulation of certain animals, particularly cats. But he adds, “No one has sold cats in San Francisco for 20 years. Where did they come from?” Natural reproduction, of course.

And Chan contends that the pet industry has developed its own methods for combating puppy mills and other grisly animal factories: “In the past couple of years, we have put microchips in dogs, so you can see their history. We do a lot to prevent these things but [the commissioners] don’t listen. They don’t care. They just try to ban everything.”

Meanwhile, Chris Sims, manager of Aquatic Central, points out that the profit motive pushes some pet-store owners to take special care for their animals. A self-described “vanguard donor to PETA,” Sims says, “Fish are not kept inhumanely, because, if they are, they won’t reproduce. You need to take very good care of them. If anyone saw my monthly cost of maintenance, they’d be surprised.”

When confronted with Sims’s point, Gerrie retreats from his original contention that profit-seeking ultimately leads to inhumane conditions for animals. “Maybe this isn’t the best thing to apply to fish,” he concedes. “But the profit motive doesn’t even consider things such as, ‘Do fish have feelings?’ I welcome the conversation and fresh perspectives.”

But Sims thinks the campaign is a waste of time. “Making this ban in the city is only going to put a few stores out of business. It’s not going to inspire a similar movement across the country.”

So far, even the Board of Supervisors, populated entirely by Democrats, seems uneager to pursue the idea. Cammy Blackstone, a spokeswoman for supervisor Carmen Chu, tells NRO, “[The commissioners] don’t have a sponsoring supervisor [for the proposed legislation], so it’s a long way’s off. I’m not sure it will come before the supervisors anytime soon.”

Still, some members haven’t dismissed the notion outright. “We’ve looked at it, but we don’t have a position on it,” Joseph Smooke, legislative aide for supervisor Eric Mar, says.

So the proposal has a chance — one its supporters feel is well justified. San Francisco wins if this law passes, the commission’s talking points insist, because the people will have an “increased sense that we are ‘living our values’ by not contributing to profit at the expense of animals.”

That’s not much in the way of compensation.

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. 

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