RI lawmakers hear 8 animal welfare bills

The owner of a number of dogs left out in the cold in Warwick, R.I. said he will move the doors to a heated, indoor facility. (Courtesy)

Rhode Island lawmakers on Wednesday heard testimony for -- and against -- eight bills regarding animal welfare.

The goal of one bill is to ban the sale of puppies and kittens in retail stores unless they come from an animal shelter first.

The Fish Bowl and Pet Mart in West Warwick has been in business for decades. It's one of the last 10 or so stores that still sells puppies in the Ocean State.

"If stores can't sell dogs, people are still going to want to have a pet, and they're going to find other ways to buy it, which is going to push business to the internet -- less regulated," said Mickey Marabello, who owns the store. "The state will also lose all the sales tax on it.”

The store only has two or three puppies on site at a time, which Marabello said are vetted to the current law.

"They come from reliable sources. They're vet-checked before they are shipped. They are quarantined. They are vet-checked by a licensed veterinarian before they're sold," said Marabello, who added that if the legislation is approved, it'll pretty much put him out of business.

Dennis Tabella heads up the pet advocacy group Defenders of Animals. When asked if it is un-American to prohibit the sale puppies in a store, he said the problem isn't the stores themselves. Rather, he said, it's where the puppies are coming from and what the mother dogs go through.

“Once they start producing those litters, they destroy them,” Tabella said of some breeders.

At the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee hearings, a separate bill aims to limit the amount of time hunting dogs can be kept outside in either extreme cold or heat.

"I've talked to some hunters, and they tell me the training of these dogs is done out in a field, not at the end of a chain,” said Tabella.

Democratic State Rep. Patricia Serpa of West Warwick is leading the charge. She said the hunting dog legislation is a response to a recent controversy regarding dogs on a property in Warwick.

Animal advocates called police and later protested after dogs were found living outside in shelters during cold snap that began in December.

The Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated and said the dogs' caretaker wasn't violating any laws.

Meanwhile, a ban on declawing cats was also discussed.

"If a cat doesn't have claws to defend itself, it bites. So, now we got a biting problem," said Tabella.

Following the hearings, a committee will then discuss all of the proposed laws and, if it gives the go-ahead, will tweak the wording and put the pieces of legislation up for votes in the House.

If any of those pass, they will be sent to the Senate side for a vote there. If any of the laws make it that far, then will then go to the governor's desk for a signature.

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