Maryland lawmakers move to outlaw 'puppy mill' sales

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

There are only seven pet stores in the entire state that sell dogs from so-called “puppy mills,” but that is seven too many for some Maryland state lawmakers.

The House of Delegates on Friday passed a bill that would outlaw all retail sales of cats and dogs unless they come from a rescue operation, effectively putting an end to “puppy mill” sales that source animals from large breeding operations.

The proposed ban, approved 123-11, now moves to the Senate.

The legislation has long been a pet issue of Kathleen “Laurie” Bernhardt, the sister of House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Last year, Bernhardt donated half her liver to her brother, who was in the final stages of liver failure. In an August interview with The Sun, she joked that all she wanted in return was for Busch to get the puppy mill ban passed.

“It’s a win-win,” she said at the time. “Those bills won’t stay in the drawer, right, Mike?”

Bernhardt joked that she her other two sisters had tried everything else to move the bill — even protesting outside Busch’s office — but thought now that all three offered to donate their internal organs Busch might be swayed.

Busch co-sponsored the bill and testified in support of it, citing conditions at an Eastern Shore puppy operation.

The government watchdog group Common Cause offered a tongue-in-cheek caution to lawmakers that advocating for bills family members support needs to be done with transparency.

“They should keep in mind that they’re serving the will of the people,” said Damon Effingham, acting director of Common Cause. “The media should continue to look into Mr. Busch’s sister and see if there was some sort of life and death extortion here. Leave no stone unturned.”

Opposition to the bill came from delegates who questioned whether it was structured in a way that prevented reputable breeders from selling to pet shops and from delegates who suggested the ban does not go far enough.

“Why just cats and dogs?” asked Del. Deborah C. Ray, a Republican from St. Mary’s County. “Aren’t you worried about the rats and the birds and the ferrets?”

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