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In California, Pets Must Now Come With Handbooks

New law requires pet stores to distribute written information about proper care of the animals they sell

New law requires pet stores to distribute written information about proper care of the animals they sell

© J. Hatten

California pet stores are now required to furnish pet care information sheets—which may include grooming tips—to customers who purchase pets.

For some people in search of an animal friend, walking into a pet store and spying a fuzzy hamster, exotic-looking lizard, or talkative parakeet can spur an ill-advised impulse buy. A new law passed in California earlier this year might not prevent this sort of mistake, but it’s meant to help educate pet owners—not just new owners—on the proper care of the animals they bring home.

The law, which went into effect January 1, requires pet merchants to provide customers with printed information on the type of pet they are buying. (The law applies even in such informal situations as a salesperson selling goldfish at a fair.) A companion law requires sellers of dogs and cats to distribute information on the benefits of spaying and neutering, too. (See box at end of this article for specific language.)

The only other state with a comparable law in place is New York, which requires “pet dealers” to “provide information on the value of spaying and neutering of dogs and cats.” New York merchants must also supply detailed data—such as a record of previous vaccinations—on the individual animal himself.

Initially requested by the Doris Day Animal League and proposed by state Sen. Edward Vincent as SB1357, the California law passed 23-12 in the Senate and 50-23 in the Assembly. Under the new law, violators first receive warnings, followed by fines of up to $250 if they do not come into compliance.

Before the law passed, reactions from pet shops were mixed. Certain stores in the state, such as Petco, had already made free (but less detailed) informational materials available to customers. Some said creating the required sheets from scratch would be too expensive and too difficult.

California Pet Care Sheets Law

“Sellers of pet animals shall provide buyers of a pet animal with general written recommendations for the generally accepted care of the class of pet animal sold including recommendations as to the housing, equipment, cleaning, environment, and feeding of the animal. This written information shall be in a form determined by the sellers of pet animals and may include references to Web sites, books, pamphlets, videos, and compact discs.”

On its website, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) warned its members, “Be careful if you plan on using materials prepared by certain activist groups because they often contain statements that encourage readers to avoid purchasing pets, especially in pet stores.”

But one possible source of pet care sheets,, espouses just the sort of guidance that animal protection organizations would support, advising owners against leaving dogs tied for long periods, letting cats roam, or using pine or cedar shavings for small animal bedding. Links to The HSUS and the ASPCA are provided. The website is maintained by a private California organization that rehomes guinea pigs.

The website offers free materials on all kinds of animals that may be sold in stores, from dogs and cats to hedgehogs and iguanas. The sheets provide information on housing, diet, cleaning, age of sexual maturity, and health; they also list other pet care resources.

The dog care sheet includes a list of “essential” items needed to care for a dog, and a list of “optional” items such as “Microchip for identification.” The sheet provides humane tips such as: “Chaining a dog outside is strongly discouraged and is sure to have a negative effect on the dog’s behavior and health,” and “Female dogs should be spayed and male dogs neutered ... [to help solve] the enormous problem of pet overpopulation.”

Because of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s status as the leading pet retail trade association, pet shops in California and other areas around the country are likely to see it as a source of information. It provides several care sheets on its website,

Pet owners referred to PIJAC’s “Taking Care of Your Puppy” sheet will see guidelines similar to those provided by, but with slightly more detail on subjects like toys, dog beds, and housetraining. In the aftermath of puppy accidents, the sheet wisely cautions, “Don’t resort to hitting him (ever) or rubbing his nose in his mistake”—but does not provide information on crate training.

In the absence of a fenced yard, the PIJAC sheet recommends “a staked tie-out or a trolley line,” and unlike the Pet Store Care Sheets guide, does not warn against leaving a dog there for long periods. The sheet advocates spaying and neutering unless the owner is a “serious breeder.”

Pet care materials like these are not the only ones that pet stores in California must provide to those who purchase dogs and cats. A law passed last July mandates that retail pet dealers provide written information on spaying and neutering, homeless animal issues, licensing, and the importance of regular veterinary visits.

California Spay/Neuter Information Law

“Every pet dealer shall deliver to the purchaser of each dog or cat at the time of sale, written material, in a form determined by the pet dealer, containing information on the benefits of spaying and neutering. The written material shall include recommendations on establishing a relationship with a veterinarian, information on early-age spaying and neutering, the health benefits associated with spaying and neutering pets, the importance of minimizing the risk of homeless or unwanted animals, and the need to comply with applicable license laws.”


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