It doesn’t matter who you are, or if you sell just one dog a year in Ohio or 100; if you do it in a specific way, you will currently be considered a pet store by the State.
You would also be subject to a $500 license requirement that carries a fine of up to $10,000 if you operate without it.
Here’s what you need to know; the Department of Agriculture is interpreting a law passed in 2016 that defines pet stores as: “an individual retail store to which both of the following apply: the store sells dogs to the public; and with regard to the sale of a dog from the store, the salesperson, the buyer of a dog, and the dog for sale are physically present during the sales transaction so that the buyer may personally observe the dog and help ensure its health prior to taking custody.”
According to a spokesman from the department, the key requirement that is tripping up hobby breeders is: “the salesperson, the buyer of a dog, and the dog for sale are physically present during the sales transaction so that the buyer may personally observe the dog and help ensure its health prior to taking custody.”
In other words, the department considers any person who sells a dog to another person while the dog is physically in their presence, a pet store.
I asked for clarification on a number if things regarding this interpretation to which the Department has not responded to.
Some of the questions left unanswered are:
- When does the sales transaction begin?
- What happens if the dog is brought in and inspected, then removed from the immediate vicinity before the exchange of currency and signing of documentation?
- How far away must the dog be to no longer be physically present?
- If the hobbyist does not have a business license, and thereby no employees, how can there be a salesperson?
- If the hobbyist does not have a business license, are they collecting sales tax and if not can they be considered a retail store?
- How could the Department of Agriculture expect to enforce this law?
The last unanswered question gets to the root of a significant problem with the law in question.
It is impractical to expect the Department of Agriculture to be present to observe the sale of puppies from anyone, let alone hobby breeders, leaving how the transaction took place undocumented in every instance outside of a video record of it.
As such, when the Department of Agriculture receives a complaint that a hobby breeder may be operating as a pet store based on how the sales transaction is conducted, all the agency has is the word of the complainant and that of the accused; a he said she said.
The complainant claims the dog was present, the accused says it wasn’t; who does the Department believe?
Operating as a “Pet Store” requires a $500 license, and carries up to a $10,000 fine without one, and small breeders like Cathy Talik say they are being targeted.
Talik has been breeding miniature schnauzers for about 20 years.
She has spent countless hours researching, studying, and conducting the art of breeding as a hobby.
Talik’s goal is to provide the best, healthiest dogs possible.
She only breeds females a few times before getting them fixed and selling them off as well.
Care has been taken to use the best pedigree she can for the dogs she breeds, and the veterinary care they receive is important to her.
As a result, she has never sold more than 17 dogs in a single calendar year; and that particular year the number was that high because the dogs had large litters.
Her normal litter size is typically between 2-4 dogs with up to 2 dogs breeding at any one time.
Right now, she has 4 females none of which are currently carrying offspring. Several of them are too young to begin breeding.
Earlier this month, Talik discovered some activity on her Facebook page urging people to adopt, not buy.
Not long before the Department of Agriculture contacted her, she received two phone calls with caller ID’s belonging to the group PETA.
According to the letter the Department of Agriculture sent her, they had received information that she may be operating as a high volume dog breeder, a dog broker, or a pet store without a license.
The letter explained that the definition of a high volume dog breeder had changed last year.
She says, none of the definitions describe her hobby breeding results; she does not sell to brokers or stores; she does not sell anywhere close to 40 puppies a year to the public; nor does she ever have more than 40 puppies on her property in a given year.
She also does not fit the definition of a dog broker, as the letter defines it.
She may fit the definition of a pet store however, if the interpretation the agency has of it holds and depending on how she conducts the sale of her puppies.
Talik refuses to ship her puppies anywhere. Instead, she requires buyers to travel to her to get them.
This has people from all over the country, seeking champion bloodline pedigrees, flying to Columbus and driving out to London, Ohio to get the newest member of their family.
When a buyer arrives, she sits down with them and goes through a packet of information about the dog from health records to proof of pedigree; even what to expect when raising a miniature schnauzer.
At some point, the dog is exchanged for a fee. What is unknown is if the dog is physically present when that occurs.
Under the Department’s interpretation of the definition of a pet store; the buyer and salesperson are present, but they cannot be sure if the dog was physically present.
When the 75-year-old Talik called the phone number on the letter in a panic to clear up that she was not a high volume dog breeder, or a broker, and in her mind was not a pet store; she was told by the state employee that, based on how she answered questions they asked her over the phone in that moment of stress and confusion, she was a pet store and would have to purchase the $500 license.
When she asked what would happen if she didn’t purchase the license, the state employee told her she would be fined up to $10,000.
Talik invited the Department of Agriculture to come out and inspect her home to prove that she was not any of the things the letter claimed she may be.
She says she was told the Department didn’t do that.
The spokesman for the Department of Agriculture was unable to explain the in-congruence of that claim and information obtained from another hobby breeder that claims the Department showed up at her home to inspect her operation recently.
Talik despises puppy mills and the way some breeders treat the animals they breed and then sell to pet stores.
She goes to great lengths to make sure the dogs she breeds are high-quality animals that are loved and cared for.
Now she feels like she and others like her are being targeted and believes that some people want to eliminate hobby dog breeders to corner the market on available pets.
In her opinion, it is the fault of lobbyists that pushed the 2016 bill through the legislature, and lawmakers’ inability to ensure that it would not be misinterpreted, that has put her and others like her in this position.
For their part, lawmakers are in discussion with the Department of Agriculture on how the agency is interpreting the law, according to the spokesman for the Republican Caucus in the Ohio Senate.
He says, ultimately, if the language in the law needs to change lawmakers will attempt do that.
As for Talik, she is refusing to purchase the license. She isn’t breeding any dogs at the moment and won’t have any able to for at least a little while. The three young females she has aren’t even old enough to figure out stairs yet, and she wants to wait until they are older.
Still, she says if the way the law is currently being interpreted isn’t addressed to exclude hobby breeders like her it will be difficult to accept never breeding again.
Currently exempt from the pet store definition outline above are animal rescues for dogs, animal shelters for dogs, a humane society, a medical kennel for dogs, or a research kennel for dogs.