Irvine Bans Retail Dog and Cat Sales, Rodeos and Circuses with Exotic Animals

To the delight of animal rights activists and chagrin of the town's lone pet store owner and the lobby that represents such businesses, the Irvine City Council Tuesday night banned the retail sale of cats and dogs. The council further earned gold stars from the likes of Orange County People for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals by outlawing rodeos and circuses with exotic animals.

The ban bandwagon got rolling in August when the Irvine Co., which owns most of the retail space in the city named after its founding ranch family, revealed it would no longer lease or renew leases to pet stores.

That will drive Russo's Pet Experience out of the Irvine Co.-owned Irvine Spectrum when the store's lease expires in October 2012.

More than 50 people addressing the council supported the ban on the retail sale of dogs and cats, with most citing inhumane conditions at puppy mills. Pet stores have been criticized for years for acquiring dogs and cats from such breeders.

If people should be buying pets anywhere, dog and cat lovers say, it should be from reputable animal shelters. The ordinance allows pet stores to acquire animals from shelters and rescue organizations.

Dan DiGiacomo, whose first Russo's store opened at Fashion Island in Newport Beach in 1968, maintained he only gets pets from licensed breeders and kennels that he has personally visited. Veterinarians examine his pets weekly, DiGiacomo added, and he would not still be in business with a clientele that has included John Wayne's family all these years if he was selling damaged goods.

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He had the support of the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which organized opposition to Irvine's ban from all over the country. The lobby points to research that apparently shows pet store puppies are as healthy or healthier than puppies from other sources, and that most pet stores obtain puppies from responsible breeders.

The lone council member opposing the ban was Jeff Lalloway, who argued the city was creating a problem that did not exist, as there is only one pet store in the city, and it will be out of business next year. Lalloway also noted there are no mass-breeding facilities, no rodeos and no circuses with exotic animals operating in Irvine.

What's interesting about Lalloway's argument is it's the same one he received earlier this year when he came out on the dissenting end of a move to ban all registered sex offenders from city parks. Members of the council majority noted that was creating a problem that did not exist as few sex offenders live in Irvine and none have been arrested in local parks. A ban that only extends to those pervs convicted of preying on children was ultimately approved.

Whipping up support for the pet store ban was Orange County People for Animals and the Desperate Paws of Orange County Dog Club. The OCPA had argued the ban "will save lives," and once it was passed Desperate Paws' founders called it "a small victory" in an ongoing war against inhumane breeders and the pet stores that keep them in business.

Among those who cheered the council Tuesday night was a man dressed as a dog.

At least, I think it was a man.

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