“Very frequently, I found the animals didn’t have food or water, even when it was really hot out,” Monica Engebretson, senior program associate for the animal group Born Free USA, tells TakePart. She visited flea markets and swap meets from Sacramento all the way down through Los Angeles and beyond, documenting what she found. “The animals would often be really crowded, like [the vendors] were just selling apples—the animals were just products.”
AB 339, a bill sponsored by Engebretson’s group and the State Human Association of California, would ban the sale of animals at flea markets and swap meets. It was introduced to the California Assembly on February 13.
“Animals are currently being sold at flea markets and swap meets in often abysmal conditions where there is no legal oversight of the seller and no consumer accountability,” says the author of the bill, California Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), in a statement.
Supporters also point to the threat these animals pose to public health. A statement by the sponsors of the bill says that smuggled parrots from Mexico “have the potential to introduce parasites and diseases.” And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reptiles can carry salmonella, with turtles less than four inches long being illegal to sell in the U.S. because of their disease risk to children.
“When I would ask the sellers about these turtles, I would specifically ask if they were good pets for kids, and they would assure me they were great pets,” Engebretson says. “The very reason they are prohibited is because they are a risk for children.”
There are also consumer protection concerns. If a pet bought at a flea market gets sick or injured, it can be more difficult to contact the seller than if the animal came from a brick-and-mortar store. Engebretson says, “At flea markets and swap meets, there is no regulatory oversight to ensure the animals are cared for properly; you don’t know where they’re going and it’s hard to track down the seller.”
Currently, California law bans the sale of animals on any street, highway, parking lot, carnival or boardwalk. Eight local governments have also passed ordinances against animal sales at swap meets, according to Dickinson’s office. And some of the larger flea markets have ended the sale of live animals at their venues. Engebretson says, the hope is to “level the playing field” across all informal markets in the state.
Roadium, a large-scale open-air market that serves about 40,000 people every week in the Los Angeles area, once offered the sale of certain animals, but no longer does. “I don’t know that we were required by any special services to eliminate the sale of pets or animals. It’s just a personal preference. I like animals and I don’t like to see them caged up,” Mike Romo, Roadium director of operations, tells TakePart. He added that Roadium offers a snack bar inside the grounds, so the sale of animals is not allowed for health and safety reasons.
In his statement, Dickinson says AB 339 would “alleviate the suffering of these animals, ensure that public health and safety is protected, and safeguard consumers.” The bill is currently waiting to be referred to committee.
What kind of experiences have you had with critters at flea markets? Let us know in the comments.