Cobb commissioners express concern over proposed pet store sales ban

Greene County Animal Control Officer Chloe Hofstetter carries three puppies the shelter is looking to adopt out. Cobb is weighing a ban on pet sales as advocates urge people to adopt from shelters instead. RICHARD WILSON/STAFF

Cobb County commissioners expressed hesitation to adopt a proposed ban on the sale of dogs and cats at retail pet stores, despite overwhelming support for it from residents and animal welfare advocates.

More than a hundred people turned out in favor of the ban during a public hearing Tuesday night.

The majority of speakers said they supported the pet sale ban to protect animals and consumers alike. They said profit-driven pet stores often engage in deceptive sales practices and source their animals from irresponsible breeders known as “pet mills.” Several presentations included slides of abused animals that had reportedly been seized from such facilities.

“I want to live in a community where cruelty is not condoned,” said Cobb resident Lynn Robinson. “Market forces are not stopping puppy mills.”

But commissioners cited an opinion by the state attorney general that says local governments cannot impose restrictions on the sale of animals that go beyond state law.

“There’s no bigger lover of animals in this room than me,” said Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, adding that she was personally opposed to the sale of cats and dogs. “However, this really is a state issue and the state legislature needs to change the laws to regulate Petland or any other pet stores.”

County officials estimate only one store — Petland in Kennesaw — would be affected by the change. The ban would not apply to private breeders.

Attorney James Balli spoke on behalf of Petland and called the assertion that pet stores buy animals from pet mills a “myth.”

“What you’ve heard tonight is not the story that we believe to be the truth,” he said. He added that the owners of Petland are longtime residents of Cobb and buy only from responsible breeders they personally select.

“They go on site and inspect where they acquire the puppies from, and it is not anything like the other pictures you may have seen today, if those pictures were even taken in this state,” he said.

In addition to Birrell, Commissioners Keli Gambrill and Lisa Cupid also expressed concern about running afoul of state law. But a motion by Birrell to withdraw the proposal failed. The second and final hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11.

The ban was among a slew of proposed code amendments subject to a first public hearing Tuesday. Other proposals included changes to rules on pet ownership, backyard chickens, short-term rentals and historic preservation.

Two speakers addressed a proposal that would allow backyard chickens without a special permit if certain conditions are met. In the past, the issue has sparked controversy every time the county had to hear an individual case, with neighbors complaining about potential noise, smell and health risks.

“There’s no danger from people having four chickens,” said Sonya Wheatley, a backyard chicken supporter. “The people who want backyard chickens? … They just want a few chickens.”

In Other News