AUGUSTA — Nobody will ever again ask “how much is that doggie in the window?” if a Maine lawmaker is successful in pushing through a bill that would bar the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.

“It’s an effort to reduce overpopulation of pets and to curb puppy mills,” Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, the bill’s sponsor, said Monday.

The bill comes as old-style pet stores have already almost vanished, replaced by a shelters and rescue groups ready to provide pets to Mainers.

Bryant Tracy, the owner of Pawz & Clawz Petz in Windham, with a pug puppy he has for sale. A proposed law would bar him from selling dogs and cats. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

“The traditional pet store is starting to fade away,” Maine’s animal welfare director, Liam Hughes, said Monday.

As recently as a couple of decades ago, pet stores that sold pets were commonplace. But a growing desire to adopt rescues and shelter animals – and buying direct from breeders – has largely shifted the business away from retailers.

A 2017 survey by the American Pet Products Association found that only 4 percent of dog owners in the United States bought their dog at a pet store. Shelters and rescue groups were the source of 44 percent of dogs while breeders delivered another 25 percent. Another 25 percent came from friends or family.

Hughes said that Maine has 82 pet shops, but few are selling dogs and cats.

Bryant Tracy, the owner of Pawz & Clawz Petz, said his little shop near the Windham Mall is the only pet store left in Maine that still offers puppies and kittens for sale. But Hughes said a couple of others are still in business.

Tracy said he sells about 250 puppies annually and perhaps 20 kittens. Without those sales, he said, he would have to close.

Banning pet store sales of dogs and cats is a priority for many animal rights groups that see it as a way to combat so-called puppy mills and to encourage people to find pets at shelters.

Tracy, whose shop is 14 years old, said his store only gets animals from breeders whose operations are inspected by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and adhere to high standards. He says it’s a matter of preserving options for those looking for a pet. “It’s all freedom of choice,” he said.

But opponents are skeptical.

“Pet shops treat puppies, kittens, birds, hamsters, mice, rabbits, and other animals as if they were fashion accessories, and they sell them to anyone with a credit card,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says on its website.

Other states, including Massachusetts and New York, are currently debating the idea, which is already law in scores of municipalities across the country..

Chipman’s bill would allow pet shops to “provide space to an animal rescue entity to offer to the public” for adoption as long as the shop owners have no ownership interest in the animals or receive a fee for providing space to the group.

Violators would be subject to a $500 fine and the possible suspension or revocation of its pet shop license.

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