West Hollywood burnished its reputation as a national leader in animal rights legislation Tuesday night when the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to prohibit most sales of cats and dogs in "companion animal" (pet) stores.
The fact that no city pet stores now sell the animals didn't dampen supporters' enthusiasm for the measure.
Local and national animal rights activists celebrated the news, saying they hoped it would spark similar efforts elsewhere.
"This definitely calls for champagne," Carole Raphaelle Davis, West Coast director of the Companion Animal Protection Society, said before the vote. "We're definitely taking this fight to Los Angeles. We want all of the stores citywide to go humane."
Davis was one of several animal rights activists who led the charge for the ordinance. Last spring she brought the City Council evidence she said proved that a local pet store was selling dogs from a Midwest breeder that had been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for inhumane treatment.
Animal rights groups have long complained about the conditions at large-scale breeding facilities known as "puppy mills" and "kitten factories" that mass-produce animals for sale to pet stores.
Such facilities often turn out sick animals, and they contribute to animal overpopulation, said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Americans spend billions of dollars each year, he said, to care for and euthanize unwanted pets.
The Humane Society estimates that 3 million to 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized at the nation's 3,500 shelters each year. More than 35,000 dogs and 67,000 cats were euthanized in Los Angeles city and county shelters last year, according to the Humane Society.
"At the very time that we're paying for the pet overpopulation problem, we're allowing pet stores to continue the problem by churning out dogs from puppy mills," Pacelle said.
He said his group and others are increasingly targeting pet stores, not just breeders, and are lobbying cities across the country to adopt measures like the one approved Tuesday.
At the West Hollywood meeting Tuesday, Councilman Jeffrey Prang said his office had been inundated with calls from city officials across the country seeking advice on how to craft similar ordinances.
In Maryland, a state senator has introduced a bill that would prohibit stores from selling dogs less than 9 months old.
The West Hollywood ordinance, which provides exemptions for "humanely bred, reared or sheltered animals," is the second of its kind nationwide. South Lake Tahoe passed a similar law last year.
West Hollywood has long been an early adopter of pet-friendly policies.
In 2002, city leaders rewrote city code to replace "pet" with "companion" and "owner" with "guardian." A year later, West Hollywood became the first city in the country to outlaw cat declawing.
Prang said he knows that some might call such legislation superfluous.
"People outside of the city roll their eyes and tell us we're silly," he said. "You only have to look at the amount of abuse that takes place in order to see that these efforts are not silly."
Prang said it was no coincidence that his very progressive city would approve such an ordinance.
"People who have compassion for human rights tend to have a similar compassion for all living creatures," he said. And besides, "we have many, many pet guardians in our city."
One of them, Dan Goshin, was walking his dog on Tuesday in Poinsettia Park, a few blocks south of city limits.
"Of course there should be laws in place keeping these little guys safe," he said of the ordinance as he gestured to Roger, a terrier mix adopted from a shelter.
Melissa Bacelar, who has eight dogs and works as a pet communicator and pet psychic at a local pet store, said West Hollywood is a dog town.
On the patio at the cafe where she sometimes eats breakfast, she said, it's not uncommon to see as many dogs as people.
"A lot of people in West Hollywood don't have kids, they have dogs," she said.