Petland store chain says new law in Athens unfairly singles it out

Athens hopes the law reduces the number of pets the shelter kills each year.
ATHENS (AP) -- A pet store chain is protesting a city law that holds sellers responsible if customers don't spay or neuter their pets.
City council adopted the unorthodox approach to try to reduce the 3,000 unwanted cats and dogs the animal shelter kills each year. Similar laws across the country typically hold buyers responsible if they do not spay or neuter their animals.
Chillicothe-based Petland operates the only pet shop in Athens and argues the law unfairly singles it out. The company challenged the ordinance in a lawsuit filed earlier this month, arguing it is a discriminatory and unconstitutional restraint of commerce.
In Athens, breeders who live outside the city and pet stores face a $100 fine if they cannot prove that the buyers later had the animals sterilized. Local residents whose animals have litters do not face the same requirements.
College students
City officials have argued Ohio University students contribute to the unwanted pet population by abandoning dogs and cats when they leave the campus in Athens, about 65 miles southeast of Columbus.
Pet-welfare organizations pushed for the law. Stephanie Shain, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States, praised the city for an approach she called progressive.
Petland, which opened its Athens store last spring, has tried to comply with the ordinance, spokeswoman Debbie May said. Pet purchasers receive a voucher for free sterilization from a Chillicothe veterinarian.
Waiting for a ruling
The city is holding off enforcement of the law until the Petland case is resolved in Athens County Municipal Court, said Lisa Eliason, city prosecutor and assistant law director.
When the ordinance passed last June, Petland was open about a month, but the timing was just a coincidence, Councilman Jim Sands said.
"Petland might have been the catalyst," he said. "But we very carefully did not consider Petland by itself."

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