WASHINGTON — When the Humane Society’s John Goodwin visited a large dog-breeding facility in North Carolina last year, the smell of ammonia from urine and feces inside the building was so strong that he got sick and had to scurry outside.

The dogs, which ranged in size from teacup poodles to Labrador retrievers, were held in wire cages, causing severe sores on their feet, he said. Two of them had such advanced gum disease that they had lost their lower jaws, and “the tongues basically had to take the place of the lower jaw” so they could eat.

It’s stories like these, and pictures and videos of “puppy mills” that flood the internet, that are fueling growing campaigns to ban or restrict the sale of dogs and cats in retail stores, in an effort to curb the large-scale commercial operations that provide many of the pets to retailers.

The number of local ordinances across the country banning the sale of pets from commercial breeders, defined as large operations that raise pets for wholesale distribution, has grown from about a hundred last year to about 250. “The momentum is there,” said Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign.

California this fall became the first state to outright ban sales of commercially raised animals in retail shops – a new success for activists working across the country to transform the way pets are taken in by families.

Activists nationwide hope California becomes a model of how to turn local ordinances into a statewide law. The idea is to approach smaller jurisdictions first, planting the seeds for statewide action, said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives at Best Friends Animal Society, a nationwide organization.

Animal welfare activists say pet stores buy puppies and kittens from commercial breeders without regard to the conditions under which they are raised.

They say the pets often are sick or injured, unbeknown to purchasers who take the pets home only to discover devastating – and expensive – illnesses and congenital defects.

But pet store owners contend that animal welfare activists simply want to put them out of business, preferring that buyers get their pets from shelters or rescue organizations. The owners also contend that not all families can travel to smaller breeders for pets or want to adopt from a rescue group, particularly if they are looking for a particular breed of dog.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group that represents pet stores, breeders and suppliers, acknowledges that there are a few “bad apples” in the industry, but says most stores and breeders are regulated and safe.

The California law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in October, takes effect in January 2019. Other states also have been crafting restrictions on commercial pet sales.

Maine’s Legislature passed a bill in 2015 that prohibited new pet shops from selling animals sourced anywhere other than a rescue organization or in the pet shop itself, which would include commercial breeders. But Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who owns a dog named Veto, vetoed the measure, saying it “simply creates more anti-business red tape. The true thrust of this bill is regulating pet shops into eventual oblivion.” The Legislature failed to override the veto.

But Portland in 2016 approved its own ordinance banning sales of dogs and cats in pet stores. And Bar Harbor just last week approved a similar ordinance.

New Jersey in 2015 enacted a law requiring pet stores to tell customers where they get their animals. But unless customers actually are checking out the source, advocates say, that law doesn’t work well in practice.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill designed to strengthen that law, prohibiting pet stores from getting dogs or cats from any breeder that had three or more USDA violations against them, but Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it, saying the bill went too far and that it was too soon to deal with pet store laws again. The closely divided Legislature did not override the veto.

New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, is readying similar legislation for the 2018 session. And although he is retiring, he is lining up new sponsors.

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