LA MESA - The La Mesa City Council heard for an hour last night from citizens concerned about the sale of puppies raised in so-called puppy mills.
What followed was a short but dogged debate about the role of government in local commerce.
"I hate to see things happening to the cute puppies," said Council Member Ruth Sterling, "then my Republican side comes on and I don't feel so good telling a business owner he can't sell a legal product."
But in the end Mayor Art Madrid, who had just been sworn in for his fifth term earlier in the meeting, said there were precedents for the city to take actions to protect local citizens and he recommended pursuing the issue.
Eventually, the council voted 5-0 to have city staff prepare a study of legislation it could consider to keep puppy mill pets out of local stores.
For several weeks local animal activists have petitioned the council to take action against the Pet Works store in Grossmont Center, which they accused of selling defective and abused pets raised in dirty and unhealthful conditions.
Pet Works denied the allegations but recently announced it was going out of business because of the poor economy.
Animal advocates want local municipalities to require pet stores to sell animals supplied by animal shelters or rescue groups rather than from mass production kennels, often located in the Midwest.
After several emotional speakers, Council Member Sterling read letters from two constituents that told the council to stay out of issues that should be handled by other levels of government or by informed consumers expressing a preference. There was talk of "Big Brother" government and concerns of over-reaching.
Madrid compared the city expressing opposition to puppy mills and defective pets to the city insisting and enforcing its requirement that farmer's market vendors prove that they raise the vegetables they sell.
"We do a number of things to protect the public," Madrid said.
In the end, concern for puppies and their owners, trumped the more libertarian issues and the council agreed to have its staff pursue the issue further. It will be brought up again at a future meeting for the council to consider action.
Sydney Cicourel, leader of the animal advocates at this meeting, expressed optimism with the limited council action.
"I feel elated,'' she said. "Any time they're leaving a door open to something like this."