A lawsuit has overturned Fayetteville’s recent ban on the sale of dogs and cats.
The complaint, filed last week in the Benton County Circuit Court against the city on behalf of Petland owners Boyle Ventures, included a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of the city’s new ordinance, which was scheduled to take effect Saturday. It also claims damages and attorney fees.
The city council voted unanimously last month to approve the measure, which would ban the sale of dogs and cats unless they were first obtained from and in conjunction with the city’s animal shelter or other animal rescue organization.
The decision was made shortly after signs appeared in north Fayetteville for a new Petland store, part of a franchise that sells puppies and kittens. No other store sells dogs and cats in Fayetteville. The city’s two largest pet stores — Petco and Petsmart — have corporate mandates against the sale of dogs and cats.
Justine Lentz, the city’s chief of animal services, said the idea for a ban was first discussed by the city’s Animal Services Advisory Board after a Petland pet store opened in Rogers in 2019. raised in large-scale, commercial breeding facilities, and since the Rogers store opened, it has been linked to backlash from customers who said they bought sick puppies with a variety of health conditions from severe worms to Parvo.
Letnz said that knowing a Fayetteville store was in the works, she wanted the municipality to act quickly in passing the ordinance.
Fayetteville Petland franchise owner Samantha Boyle, who also owns the Rogers location and another store in Joplin, Missouri, asked the city council to reject the proposal, saying the claims about her Rogers store were unfounded.
Before the vote, councilors said their decision was not based on a specific case, but was rather an effort to ensure animal safety.
At the time, city attorney Kit Willams said he thought the council had made a reasonable decision to prevent a new outlet from selling animals raised in poor conditions. He said he knew there was a potential for petland curbing, but he was confident the ordinance was in line with state law.
“I realized that the city of Fayetteville could be threatened with numerous claims if the city council passed the ordinance,” he wrote in an Aug. 11 memo to the mayor and city council. “But… I thought the city could withstand all those attacks.”
Williams said a few days after the vote he was contacted by a lawyer representing Petland who outlined some arguments as to why the new measure was not valid. After investigating each claim, Williams said his initial confidence was reaffirmed.
But a second email from a lawyer referred to a new state statute passed in 2021 (Ark. Code § 14-54-1105) regarding the regulation of working animals. And while Williams said he thinks it’s clear that animals sold in pet stores aren’t inherently defined as working animals, the statute contains some wording that could jeopardize Fayetteville’s new regulation.
The language states, “An ordinance or resolution shall not be issued by any municipality that terminates, prohibits, effectively prohibits, or causes undue hardship with respect to the work or use of any working animal or animal business in commerce… “
Williams said it is the reference to “animal enterprise in the trade” that is concerning.
“Can this reasonably mean a pet store?” he asked. “It remains a bit unclear what ‘animal farm’ means. If the legislator meant “pet store,” why didn’t she use that term?”
The legislator has excluded a number of animals from the definition, including poultry, pigs, dairy cows, cattle, sheep and goats. The language did not exclude dogs, cats or horses.
“Was it the intent of the legislator to guarantee the protection of the owner/seller’s right to use these animals in an animal business?” he asked. “Was this statute requested by pet stores or racehorse breeders?”
Williams, as the language is not clearer, the city should consider a compromise with Petland. He said it could be dangerous to take the debate to the state Supreme Court, as the court was not very receptive to Fayetteville’s efforts to enforce its civil rights ordinance to protect LGBT citizens.
“Would it be more receptive to our efforts to protect dogs, cats, puppies and kittens?” he asked.
Dealing with Petland may not be a personally comfortable option, but it may be the smartest decision, Williams said.
“This option comes from my head, not my heart,” Williams said. “However, it is my duty to provide you with the fairest assessment of legal considerations, as well as the potential financial risks to our taxpayers.”
In a memo to the council before the Aug. 16 meeting, Williams said any councilor who wanted to delay the ordinance to allow time for negotiations could sponsor a walk-on agenda item, but no request was made.
A week later, the lawsuit was filed by attorney George Rozzell, and a hearing was set for November 17.
Williams said he plans to request an earlier court date after answering the complaint and getting witnesses to testify. He said he also plans to file a motion to change the location to Washington County “where every action involved in this lawsuit has taken and will take place and where virtually every potential witness resides.”
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