Teens pushing WA Legislature to ban retail puppy sales

Bellevue teens who love dogs take their advocacy work to Olympia to propose a bill and see it through.

Novia Liu walks her dog, Snicker, at Medina Park on Feb. 5, 2020. Liu is working with another local teen to advocatef for a bill before the Washington Legislature that would ban retail pet sales, otherwise known as the “puppy mill bill.” (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

In the shadow of a Big Lots, a white sandwich board sign points customers to a storefront covered with puppy window clings. Inside Renton’s Fairwood Pet Center, aisles of pet supplies run perpendicular to the back wall, where large windows reveal a narrow room that houses puppies in kennels.

The kennels are stacked three high and eight wide, connected in pairs. There is another stack of three pairs in the left corner. Two Frenchie-Boston mixes play in a little fenced-off patch of linoleum floor.

According to the selection on the store’s website, all the dogs available for purchase are either purebred or a hybrid recognized by the Designer Breed Registry like Ship-A-Pom (a mix of Pomeranian and Schipperke) or Mal-Shi (a mix Maltese and Shih Tzu).

A couple looks through the glass at the puppy they have already put a downpayment on. The couple will never know where their new pet came from: Fairwood Pet Center has signed non-disclosure agreements with their breeders, according to a store employee.

Fairwood Pet Center is cited as one of five Washington pet retailers sourcing dogs from puppy mills in a report by volunteers at Bailing Out Benji. The volunteer organization claims Fairwood Pet Center is working with four breeders the activists classify as puppy mills.

The pet store’s website states: “Our pets are responsibly sourced. We get our puppies from local breeders that we have been using for over 25 years.  We do not support ‘puppy mills’ or ‘backyard breeders.’ ”

Gaynetta Snyder of Precious Paws, one of the breeders accused of being a puppy mill, confirmed via invoice record that she sold Fairwood Pet Center one puppy, a Shiba Inu, in 2018. That same year a leaked pet license transfer form alleges Fairwood Pet Center sourced a “Mini Aussie” from Ida’s Toy Box, which also appears on the Humane Society’s 2020 Horrible Hundred report.

Fairwood Pet Center did not return several phone calls requesting comment and an employee said the manager did not want to comment on the retail pet ban.

In the last legislative session, House Bill 1640 sought to ban pet retailers like Fairwood Pet Center from selling dogs and cats. Since breeding regulations from 2009 already prohibit the practices that constitute puppy mills and kitten factories, HB 1640 would have ended the supply chain that funnels out-of-state animals raised in these conditions without interfering with the federal rules of interstate commerce.

The bill died in committee last session. This year, Rep. Amy Walen D-Kirkland, is ready to try again with the bipartisan House Bill 1424.

“One of my colleagues said, ‘I thought you were just running this bill because you love dogs,’ ” Walen said with a laugh. “Well, no. There’s a little bit more to it then that.”

For Walen, it’s about informing consumers — hence the bill’s home in the Consumer Protection & Business Committee. Around Thanksgiving, Walen noticed barcodes on grocery store turkeys that, when scanned, showed consumers where the turkey was raised.

“We can do it for turkeys and they’re not even alive!” Walen said. “I want to know where my puppy is raised. I want to know the living conditions of mom and dad. I think consumers deserve to know that.”

Walen got her two dachshunds, Patty and Leo (or at least that’s Leo’s “formal” name), from a breeder who follows a strict vetting process before handing off her animals. The breeder goes so far as to not sell to smokers, according to Walen.

Besides a love of animals and passion for consumer protection, Walen was inspired to continue work on the retail pet ban by two young advocates from her own district. Ava Finn and Novia Liu testified for HB 1640 before they were even licensed drivers. 

From left, Novia Liu walks her dog, Snicker, and Ava Finn with her dog, Maxie. The pair are advocating for a bill in the Washington Legislature to ban retail pet sales. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

From left, Novia Liu walks her dog, Snicker, and Ava Finn with her dog, Maxie. The pair are advocating for a bill in the Washington Legislature to ban retail pet sales. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Finn and Liu are high school students from Bellevue who describe themselves as the kind of people who notice a dog before they notice its owner.  Finn’s family has had up to seven animals in the house at one time. To be fair, she says that figure included many guinea pigs.

Finn calls her 11-year-old dog Cody “the best Christmas present ever.” Likewise, Liu’s 7-year-old golden retriever, Snicker, is the love of her life.

After meeting at a training program for young Humane Society volunteers when they were 13 and 14, Finn and Liu became interns with the shelter’s adoption department. Part of that internship was to develop an animal welfare project.

From there, the two drafted policy inspired by Bainbridge Island’s retail pet ban for their own local jurisdiction. When political analysts advised that statewide regulation was preferable to a more “patchwork” approach, Finn and Liu joined forces with Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal advocacy group already doing the work on the state level.

“I think a lot of times we can fall into the trap of thinking we are just too young to get started,” Finn said.

Though still too young to vote, the two pitched HB 1640 to state lawmakers like Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, over  iced mochas and matcha lattes. In Liu’s words, these meetings made the two “nervous and giddy.”

“We would FaceTime beforehand to practice our spiel,” Liu said. Finn added that they were concerned about conveying themselves in a professional manner. “Then afterwards, we would be in the parking lot of this legislator’s office literally jumping up and down,” Finn said.

To raise awareness, the two spoke at events with Indivisible Eastside and the Humane Society. Finn and Liu believe their bright orange Google Slide deck presentations were well-received.

“For lots of people, when it comes to government, there’s so much they’d be willing to support,” Finn said. “They just don’t know about it.”

When HB 1640 failed, the two ramped up their efforts to educate the community. For Walen, her next priority was to build a better bill by “broadening the tent” to include more stakeholders: animal rights activists, pet store owners, even her own breeder. 

Ava Finn with her dog, Maxie, during a walk at Lakemont Park in Bellevue on Feb. 9, 2021. Finn is working with another local teen to advocate in support of the "puppy mill bill" in the Legislature. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut) 

Ava Finn with her dog, Maxie, during a walk at Lakemont Park in Bellevue on Feb. 9, 2021. Finn is working with another local teen to advocate in support of the "puppy mill bill" in the Legislature. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut) 

The big concern among opponents was putting existing pet retailers such as Fairwood Pet Center out of business and their employees out of work.

When Kitsap County passed its own ban on retail pet stores in 2019, Farmland Pets & Feed of Silverdale had a year to adjust to the new rules. It has continued to operate without selling dogs and cats since July 2020.

According to the store’s manager, Shannon Randall, the profit from animals such as fish and rabbits, as well as supplies for farm and garden, have limited layoffs to just one employee. But Randall is still not a fan of government intervention like Kitsap’s ban.

“They’ve been trying to control everything governmentally and it’s not working,” Randall said. “The good breeders seem to be pushed out, and the bad breeders are finding ways around it.”

She expressed concern that consumers would now opt to “meet someone in a Walmart parking lot” and “get a puppy out of the back of their car.”

When Farmland Pets & Feed used to sell dogs and cats, Randall said, it was liable for the health of the animals. According to Randall, It also chose to provide owners with a five-generation pedigree, picture of the animal’s parents and information about the breeder.

A partnership with Sharon Munk of BJ’s and Guys in Menlo, Kansas, landed Farmland Pets & Feed on Bailing Out Benji’s volunteer-produced Washington Puppy Mill Map. Randall confirmed that the store sourced its dogs from Munk starting in the mid-’90s until the store stopped selling animals last summer.

Randall said her parents, who own the store, visited Munk’s facility with less than 24 hours notice to check it out. She said her father found Munk’s facility was so clean “you could eat off the floors.”

The facility appears on the Humane Society’s 2017 Horrible Hundred report, which lists puppy mills that the organization finds most problematic. The Humane Society report says Munk's facility had more than a thousand dogs and puppies as of a 2016 federal inspection.

Walen's bill, HB 1424, would grandfather in existing pet retailers and allow them to keep selling animals. Unlike its 2019 predecessor, this bill makes this compromise to appease pet store owners.

Walen says measures concerning transparency for existing pet retailers like Fairwood Pet Center are in the works.

About the Authors & Contributors

Hannah Krieg

Hannah Krieg is an intern covering the state Legislature. She is a third-year student studying Journalism and Public Interest Communication at the University of Washington. She is the engagement editor at the student newspaper,The Daily. Find her on Twitter at @hannahkrieg or email at krieghan00057@gmail.com