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Panel OKs bill to provide pet buyers with info

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A House committee unanimously endorsed a bill Wednesday that would require retail pet stores to give buyers information about a pet's background and medical history before selling a dog or cat.

Supporters said the legislation is critical to protect consumers looking for a family pet. The bill would require pet stores to put information about the dog or cat on its cage in the store — including the animal's medical history, the name of the breeder and any congenital disorders. Customers could get other information, including the address and size of the breeding operation, upon request or when they buy a dog or cat.

Sarah Hayes, president of the Indiana Alliance of Animal Control and Welfare Organizations, said pet stores often spin the truth about where they get their dogs. Instead of saying animals come from large-scale breeding operations, a pet store may tell a customer that the dog simply came from a "local" breeder, she said.

"Local can be a puppy mill also," she said. "If pet stores are telling the truth that their animals do not come from puppy mills, they should have nothing to hide and shouldn't have a problem with simply posting this information."

Supporters said they've heard from many people who buy dogs and cats at pet stores and are then stuck with huge vet bills — or faced with euthanizing the animal — when serious health problems are found.

But opponents — including Indiana pet stores — said the rules are unfair and would be a hardship on their businesses. Craig Curry, special projects manager for Uncle Bill's Pet Centers, said the company's five stores in Indiana already give pet information to customers when they buy a dog or cat. And the stores guarantee the health of the animals, he said.

But Curry said it wasn't a good idea to release information about breeders before a customer buys a dog or cat because some animal rights extremists could use that information to harass or hurt breeders.

"We are so terrified that we are going to get people hurt," Curry said.

Uncle Bill's locations are frequently protested by animal anti-cruelty groups because it allegedly sells dogs from puppy mills.

Other opponents said giving the name of the breeder could provide a shortcut for the customer, who could then go to the breeder to buy a dog rather than purchase from the pet store.

The original proposal included a $25 fee for every dog and cat sold at a pet store, but that provision was removed after stores called it a tax that would cut into their profits and hurt business.

The bill would also increase the penalty for attending a dog fight in Indiana from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee voted 11-0 for the bill, which now moves to the full House for consideration.

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