Letter to the Editor: Carmel Councilman Urges Legislature to Pump Brakes

Dear Editor,

I’m writing today to urge the Indiana State Legislature to pump the brakes on Senate Bill 134 and House Bill 1121. Both pieces of legislation — written by out-of-state business interests focused on profits over the wellbeing of living creatures — would undermine local ordinances regarding the responsible breeding of cats and dogs and the commercial sale of pets in stores.

I serve on the Carmel City Council and I believe one of my duties as an elected public servant is to protect those without a voice. Cats and dogs cannot speak for themselves and I believe it’s morally wrong to abuse, neglect or mistreat these animal companions.

In response to weak and vague state laws, I led the charge on a local level to strengthen Carmel’s animal cruelty laws, creating new penalties for owners who leave pets outside in extreme heat or cold. We also cracked down on irresponsible breeders within our city limits. These are breeders who breed too many animals in a small residential space or keep animals in unacceptable conditions.

I knew this was a moral issue. Back when I was a newspaper reporter, I personally visited a puppy mill as police seized dozens of malnourished dogs. They had matted fur and the stench was horrible. No living creature deserves to live in such cramped, unclean facilities.

But this was also a neighborhood issue and a financial issue. In Carmel, residents don’t want to live 10 feet away from a home with up to 20 breeding females and perhaps up to 100 dogs (when you consider males and puppies). That’s a business and does not belong in a home.

Furthermore, excess breeding of cats and dogs contributes to more strays on the street and overcrowding at the local animal shelter. And every cat and dog that’s picked up or brought to the shelter costs the taxpayer. The taxpayer pays for the initial housing, feeding and care of these animals. The taxpayers are the one who take on the significant financial burden of irresponsible breeding, not the breeders.

The proposed state laws would undo more than a dozen local ordinance that prohibit commercial cat/dog sales in pet stores. By undoing these laws, you’d be taking away local control. Local issues should be decided by local politicians. More importantly, you’d be causing harm to these communities by not understanding why a these bans are put into place.

Here in Carmel, we do not have a single pet store that sells cats and dogs in our city limits. Major retail chains like Petco or PetSmart offer pet adoption instead, and, I’d add, they do quite well financially selling food, medications, supplies and toys. Previously, we had an ordinance on the books that any pet store that sells cats or dogs can only purchase them from breeders that comply with our local breeding laws. While that sounds good on paper, it would be nearly impossible to enforce. Pet stores source their animals from numerous breeders, many of which are located hours away or across state lines. Paperwork from each breeder can be inaccurate and it would create an undue burden on our local animal control officers or code enforcement to travel and inspect these facilities. Inevitably, we’d end up looking the other way. Since we had no pet stores selling cats or dogs, we took the preemptive action and outlawed the practice before a problem could occur. The vast majority of our Republican-controlled city council voted in support of the ordinance.

I want to be clear: I’m not anti-breeder. In fact, I purchased my 11-year-old Shiba Inu from a reputable breeder. Breeders have a place but they should follow local laws. They shouldn’t be jamming an insane number of animals into a small space. That’s no life for an animal and it creates a supply of animals that the public can’t support, leading to overflowing shelters and, in some cases, euthanasia.

There was no summer study committee on this topic and it feels like this legislation has been rushed before the issue can truly be studied and understood by our state legislators. In fact, there was a lot of confusion by committee members about what the law would actually do. Some laws take years to pass. Why does this law need to be fast tracked?

Whether you personally agree with it or not, cities are well within their right to regulate local businesses. This is no different from a local smoking ban at bars and restaurants. We do not need state laws to undo our local ordinances.

My ask is this: Let local governments continue to make local decisions that affect local budgets and local communities. Please respect home rule.

For some Indiana communities, residents would not support laws regarding cats and dogs similar to Carmel’s. That’s perfectly fine. Let each county or city make their own rules based on the wishes, desires and needs of their community.

There’s no need to rush this legislation. Please consider shelving this matter this session so it can be discussed further. Thank you for your time.

Adam Aasen
Carmel City Council