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Activists crow, er bark, about ban on pet sales

Irvine bans selling dogs and cats, as well as rodeos and circuses, but one official says there's no problem to begin with.

October 15, 2011|By Sarah Peters

IRVINE — Jim Gardner had a good reason for wearing a head-to-toe dog suit to City Hall on Tuesday night.

His furry alter ego, "Big Dog," and other animal activists turned out en masse to the public hearing of an animal welfare ordinance that bans the retail sale of cats and dogs in Irvine and also bans rodeos and circuses featuring exotic animals.

"In normal street clothes, I'm one of 100 in the audience," Gardner said Wednesday. "There's no impact. Sitting there as a dog helps bring forward the impact of the issue to the council members. Rather than being an amorphous issue, here is the issue: Cats and dogs dying and [being] treated badly within city limits."

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The crowd erupted in cheers and applause when the ordinance passed with a 4-1 vote. Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway dissented.

Although Gardner did not speak before the council — removing the floppy-eared costume head would have meant breaking character — he said the arguments presented by more than 50 other activists were well-stated.

"It's just a win for animals all around," resident Wendy Fears, one of a small local group who helped organize supporters of the ban, said after the vote. "I'm just real proud of Irvine for standing up against animal abuse."

Lalloway worried that the proposed ordinance may move pet sales to the Internet and "import a pet problem, rather than stop it."

"Today, tonight, we are here to deal with a problem that simply does not exist," Lalloway said. "We do not have any mass-breeding facilities here in Irvine. We have one pet store, Russo's, which will not be selling dogs and cats after next year."

In August, the Newport Beach-based Irvine Co., which owns the Irvine Spectrum Center, where Russo's Pet Experience operates, announced that it would not renew the store's lease when it expires in October 2012. The firm also declined to renew Russo's lease at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

The city also does not host circuses featuring wild animals or hold rodeos, Lalloway said.

While existing animal-welfare laws should be enforced, new legislation in the city should "focus on putting people back to work, not on a problem that does not exist," he said.

Retail sales of animals are banned under the ordinance, but cat and dog adoptions are still allowed. The ordinance will also not affect petting zoos, reptile shows, or pony and camel rides at fairs, according to a staff report.

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