Over the last few months, with the Montclair Township Council considering a ban on the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores, a light was placed on a nationwide problem -- the mistreatment of animals by large-scale breeders who then sell to retailers in what has been called a puppy mill pipeline.

With a unanimous vote Tuesday night, Dec. 20, in support of the ban, the council ensured that this pipeline will not reach Montclair. The town joined more than 130 New Jersey municipalities that have already adopted similar measures, a step that follows New York’s statewide ban, signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week.

For Montclair, it is a pre-emptive step – there are no retailers selling pet dogs or cats in the town. But Elissa Frank, New Jersey State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, said that legislation like this helps create a kind of barrier, preventing stores selling these animals to sprout in towns without regulations. It is her hope that Montclair's action along with New York's are a precursor to New Jersey passing its' own ban. 

She described to Montclair Local a grim picture, where cats and dogs are forced to endure wretched conditions – cramped and unsanitary cages, poor or nonexistent veterinary care, before they are trucked to pet stores around the country. Often, she said, pet store owners sell the animals to customers for as much as $5,000 without providing any background on their health or the mistreatment they endured.

"We're absolutely thrilled that Montclair unanimously passed this ordinance," she said. "It's actually the best gift that Montclair could give to the animals before the holidays."

"With New York passing its law, pet store owners are going to start looking for places across the border," she said. "Now they know they can't come to Montclair."

Frank drew a sharp distinction between the puppy mills and responsible breeders who will want to meet prospective owners in person. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is lax in its approach to the problem, she said.

"The lack of enforcement is the issue," she said, "and that creates unlivable conditions for these animals that are in the puppy mills."

Montclair's ordinance began to take form with Annette Batson, founder of Humane Montclair, who alerted Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager to the problem. They worked together, along with Karen Sacks, a Montclair resident who leads Partners in Animal Welfare.

"My love for animals, pets, especially dogs, has always been something I feel strongly about," Schlager said. "How lucky we are here in Montclair to have animal rights advocates who care about pets so passionately, who brought this very important issue along with the Humane Society of the U.S. to the attention of the council.  After meeting with them, reading the literature and statistics they have gathered, it was the absolute right thing to do to support their efforts and to help in any way we can to make sure dogs and cats are protected and treated well.   It is my hope that many other towns and states follow suit."

Yacobellis called the step a "values statement."

"Just like the 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign or becoming a Monarch City is a values statement," he said.

Yacobellis said that people need to know that when they buy a dog or cat from a pet store, “they are likely supporting an abusive puppy mill.”

“Puppy mills are inhumane high-volume dog breeding facilities that churn out puppies for profit, ignore the needs of the pups and their mothers, and subject them to neglect, abuse and illness,” he said. “Indubitably, promoting animal abuse does not reflect Montclair’s community values."