WASHINGTON — In recent years, the term “puppy mills” has been used by animal rights organizations to signify “all commercial breeders.” A recent editorial, “Our View: Pet store dogs too often have troubling origins” (Feb. 16), discussed the sale of dogs in pet stores in Maine and unjustly implied that all puppies sold in Maine pet stores came from “puppy mills.”

These extreme views would have you believe there is no such thing as a responsible breeder. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates and inspects professional breeders across the country to ensure the health and well-being of every animal. We at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council believe that a distinction needs to be made between “all commercial breeders” and “substandard breeding facilities.”

While in the minority, substandard breeding facilities do exist. We in the responsible pet trade are even more upset by this than activists because of its impact on the animals, as well as its impact on the reputation of responsible breeders.

Puppy mill raids – enforcement actions and seizures by legal authorities, often with activists in attendance – almost always target unlicensed breeders who are operating illegally, rather than those who are working within the system. The vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores come from USDA-licensed sources, but because these breeders are not inspected, the data is skewed.

Substandard breeding facilities represent the exception, not the norm, and by using them as examples of practices in the pet trade, it creates a false impression that existing standards are inadequate when, in fact, it is the failure of such facilities to meet these standards that creates the problems.

A bill now before the Maine Legislature, L.D. 335, would ban the sale of dogs in pet stores, targeting four responsible Maine businesses in the name of “sending a message” to breeders across the country. Bills like this, promoted by animal rights extremists like the Humane Society of the United States, would limit pet choice and force you to buy from a shelter or rescue group or else seek out a breeder online.

While this may be feasible in a state with a large number of breeders or a problem with shelter overpopulation, Maine has neither. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s shelter survey shows just over 10,000 dogs taken in by shelters statewide, with 2,710 of them transferred into the state. Fully 95 percent of these dogs were adopted, returned to their owners or transferred out.

The first step toward responsible pet ownership is finding the animal that best fits your needs. Allergies may require a specific breed for certain pet owners, like the family of President Obama. Older, less mobile pet owners may prefer a more sedate pet. And those with space limitations will want to choose their pet accordingly.

Pet stores typically offer a wide choice of breeds that may not be available from shelters, rescue groups or private breeders. A pet store may be the best choice for finding the breed of dog best suited to you.

Additionally, pet stores provide consumer protection and satisfaction. Pet stores are an accountable, traceable source of pets. Maine pet stores provide warranties on the dogs they sell, backed up by the state’s pet purchase protection law. This does not apply to shelters and rescue groups, so pet store customers enjoy greater consumer protection.

Furthermore, pet store bans encourages underground, unregulated markets. This has the unintended consequence of driving consumers to the same irresponsible breeders whom this bill seeks to block.

Standards for the breeding and care of dogs and cats in the pet trade have risen over the years, not just because of statutory and regulatory mandates, but also because breeders and retailers have increased their knowledge and professionalism in providing healthy and well-socialized pets to the public. All pets should be treated with love and consideration, just as they are by the families who take these pets into their home.

This is what the public expects, the pet industry demands and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council helps put into action. Banning the sale of pets in four Maine pet stores will not solve the problem of inhumane treatment of animals. It only serves to render Maine voiceless in the broader national discussion of responsible breeding and improving standards.