Standing on Main Street during a mild day in December, Ashley Cunnyngham walked up and down the sidewalk asking residents to sign her petition.
Two months and 1,400 signatures later, Cunnyngham presented a thick stack of papers to the FranklinBoard of Mayor and Aldermen in February, asking members to consider an ordinance that would stop the saleof dogs and cats in the city's pet stores. The ordinance would address only sales in brick-and-mortar businesses, not personal sales of animals.
"I could barely get out my spiel of what I was doing before people would agree to sign my petition," she said.
Cunnyngham believes the sale of dogs and cats could lead to a health risk for animals and owners in the form of Campylobacter, an infection passed from animals. But only one retailer is licensed to sell cats and dogsin stores in Franklin: the Pawfect Puppy.
Cunnyngham said no city in Tennessee has an ordinance like this. Representatives from the City of Franklin and the Tennessee Humane Society also think it would be a first. Without a state law in place, Cunnyngham said she felt it was up to the city to take a stance.
"We are proud of the City of Franklin for considering this ordinance and being proactive," Tennessee Humane Society Executive Director Eric Stafford said. "With the number of animals in fosters and shelters, there are animals waiting for a chance to find their forever home. We hope to see this ordinance move forward."
A puppy store perspective
Getting up from his chair recently to tend his store, Pawfect Puppy owner John Thompson looked at several puppies in their white cribs. The new dogs for sale had just arrived that morning. Two German shepherds of his own were lying on their beds in the lobby.
Thompson said he gave up a 25-year business career to open a pet store with his wife on Jordan Roadin Franklin.
For the last two years, the Pawfect Puppy has sold more than 700 puppies, mostly hypoallergenic and specialty dog breeds.
"No one wants to talk about the realistic side of this," said Thompson, standing behind the counter. "The whole issue here is that an ordinance to be passed to restrict people’s right to adopt or shop is unconstitutional."
Thompson said his dogs come from licensed breeders, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Before he even opened his store in 2016, Thompson faced pushback from a nonprofit animal rescue in Thompson's Station. The rescue group filed an online petition in an attempt to keep him from opening, but the effort failed.
Looking ahead, Thompson said if the ordinance passes, he would have to go out of business. He said he wouldn't be able to sell dogs that come from rescue situations.
"The rescues and animal shelters couldn’t supply me enough 8- to 10-week-old puppies," he said. "I am not going to put myself in a position or warranty for a dog I know nothing about. In a perfect world, the ordinance sounds great, but there’s a reason why people don’t necessarily want to go to a shelter for their family dog. There will always be people who are going to shop rather than adopt."
When the Hanlin family brought their new Labradoodle home at 9 weeks old from the Pawfect Puppy, they expected her to be like any other puppy.
And for three weeks, she was.
But as Maybelline turned 12 weeks old, the Hanlins had to rush their dog to an emergency veterinarian. The dog was soon diagnosed with a congenital and hereditary birth defect along with neurological problems. In addition, she suffered from hip dysplasia.
"Any dog can have these sorts of health problems, whether the dog was purchased or adopted, but the difference is in how the dogs are bred," owner Ryan Hanlin said. "Dogs bred for profit notoriously have health problems. These dogs are often bred in horrible conditions in so-called 'mega mills' by the hundreds."
Hanlin said Maybelline has since recovered. The dog is down to just one medicine a day besides her vitamins.
"We're not animal activists," Hanlin said. "We're just a young family that made the mistake of purchasing a puppy from a business that supports commercial breeders."
Nancy Tarver said she faced a similar situation after adopting two puppies from the Franklin pet store. Both dogs, Stella and Macy, got sick with kennel cough. The situation worsened for Stella, who was hospitalized with pneumonia.
"Maybe I should have done more research," Tarver said. "Now going back I read all the bad things. I learned my lesson."
Pawfect Puppy owner Thompson disagrees. He said the pet owners didn't follow the terms of agreement by taking their dogs to the vet within three days of purchase.
"Every person who has had a problem with my store hasn’t followed the sale and warranty agreement," Thompson said. "If they have followed the terms we have always stood behind the dog."
About the potential ordinance
Franklin city staff has started researching a potential ordinance that would prohibit pet stores from selling dogs and cats. A bill in the Tennessee House that would have worked to monitor pet stores failed in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee in late February.
The bill would have required sellers of dogs and cats to be licensed.
Franklin aldermen will look at the issue in the coming months.
Reach Emily West at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-613-1380 and on Twitter at @emwest22.