Snakes being sold in boxes at a pet expo.

A Toolkit for Animal Advocates: Banning Retail Sales of Wild Animals

Help Stop the Sale of Wild Animals in Pet Stores in Your Local Area


Why Local Change Matters

Changing the law is one of the most powerful ways you can protect animals, and it starts with animal advocates like you fighting to make your communities a kinder place. At the city and county level, your voice is more likely to be heard, and you can make a meaningful difference. Your impact isn’t limited to your own neighborhood. Local laws ripple outward, eventually changing state and federal law and ultimately protecting millions. For instance:

  • In 2011, West Hollywood, California became the first city in the United States to ban the sale of fur
  • Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles then banned fur sales
  • Just eight years later, California enacted a statewide fur sale ban, and multiple states are poised to follow suit.

Local change matters, which is why we need your help.


Every year, wild animals including turtles, lizards, snakes, parrots, monkeys, and otters are removed from their homes in the wild or intensively bred in captivity and sold as pets. The trade in wild animals for use as pets is responsible for the suffering of millions of animals and is fueling our biodiversity crisis. Some aspects of the trade are legal, and some are illegal. But the result is the same—animal suffering.

Virtually all animals supplied to pet stores are sourced from either companies that import wild animals or mills where animals are bred with little regard for their welfare. Veterinary care is often inadequate or absent, and sanitation is poor. Some reptile and amphibian mills house thousands of animals at once. Overcrowded reptiles and amphibians are forced to fight for limited food and water, sometimes fatally injured in the process. Dead animals are just seen as the cost of doing business.

In response, local and state governments are increasingly adopting retail pet sale bans—laws that ban the sale of certain animals in pet stores. Most existing retail pet sale bans apply only to dogs, cats, and sometimes rabbits. These bans are helping shut down the puppy mill industry both by limiting demand and signaling to consumers that puppies shouldn’t be purchased.

In 2006, Albuquerque, New Mexico became the first city in the United States to prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. Fifteen years later, nearly 400 cities and counties and five states (California, Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Illinois) have enacted similar laws. But wild animals like birds, reptiles, and amphibians have largely been left out despite their continued suffering.

In 2017, Cambridge, Massachusetts passed the most sweeping retail pet sale ban in the country. The law prohibits the sale of birds, amphibians, reptiles, arachnids, and mammals like hamsters, dogs, and cats in pet stores and on city property (such as parking lots and sidewalks) unless the animal comes from a shelter or rescue. It now serves as a model for the rest of the nation.

Tips for Using This Toolkit


Tip #1

This toolkit aims to empower animal advocates to mobilize their communities to pass a retail pet sale ban, like the Cambridge ordinance. It has a special emphasis on wild animals, especially birds, reptiles, and amphibians. There are numerous resources and guides online that discuss puppy and cat mills. If you live in a community with a ban on the retail sale of dogs and cats, use this toolkit to push your legislators to take the next step. If you live in a community without an existing ban, supplement this toolkit with one that focuses on other species.

Tip #2

The arguments in this toolkit focus on animals commonly sold in stores. Detailed species-specific information is beyond its scope. Though it’s less common, there are stores that sell rarer wild animals such as coatimundis or monkeys. If such a store exists in your community, research those species’ care needs and the health and safety risks they pose to humans. This will strengthen your arguments when speaking with legislators.

Tip #3

Some communities don’t have any pet stores that sell animals. This shouldn’t stop you from considering proposing a retail pet sale ban. Animal protection laws communicate a community’s values to residents and beyond. Furthermore, sometimes local governments don’t want to be “first.” It can be easier to pass a retail pet sale ban if neighboring communities have already adopted one. Your community could serve as an example.


Animals Commonly Impacted

Quaker parakeets in a cage.

Quaker parakeets

Quaker parakeets (also known as monk parakeets) are small green parrots in the family Psittacidae. They’re native to South America, specifically areas of Argentina and neighboring countries. But self-sustaining wild populations of Quaker parrots have taken hold around the world, including in parts of the United States, because of the pet trade. Possession of this species is prohibited in multiple states due to their impact on agriculture and infrastructure like electrical lines where they like to build nests. They weigh between 3 and 5 ounces and live between 20 and 30 years. They are known for their ability to mimic human speech and sounds. Quaker parrots are very social birds and nest colonially, making it very difficult to meet their needs in captivity.

Red-eared slider turtles resting together.

Red-eared slider turtles

The red-eared slider, named for the small red stripe on the sides of their heads, is one of the most popular “pet” turtle species. Their lifespan is between 20 and 30 years, and their natural range extends from West Virginia to New Mexico. They live in freshwater habitats like swamps and streams and enjoy quiet waters with soft bottoms and ample aquatic vegetation. Red-eared sliders bask on logs or rocks for much of the day and sleep underwater at night. The terrariums offered for sale at the largest pet store chains range from 20 to 75 gallons. Even a much larger 500-gallon terrarium (which costs thousands of dollars) is a minuscule amount of space compared to a pond or stream.

Ball python in a fake habitat in captivity.

Ball pythons

Ball pythons live in the grasslands and savannas of East and West Africa. Their name refers to their tendency to curl up into a tight ball when stressed. Nocturnal animals, they shelter in burrows during the day and hunt or look for a mate at night. Their diet consists of birds and rodents. Sold by national pet store chains, ball pythons are the most-traded live animal legally exported from Africa. They’re primarily exported from Benin, Togo, and Ghana and primarily imported by the US, Europe, Canada, and China. West Africa has exported over three million ball pythons since 1975. Misconceptions about their care needs have made them popular pets, but they’re far from “low-maintenance.” Many are abandoned outside when owners become frustrated with their needs.

Wild Animals Require Specialized Care

It might be easier to understand why wild animals like monkeys, kinkajous, or tigers belong in the wild. But reptiles, amphibians, and birds also have complex inner lives even if their facial expressions or vocalizations are not as easily understood by humans. These animals are sentient beings who feel pain and a wide range of emotions including anxiety, fear, pleasure, and excitement. For example, studies have documented that green iguanas have an emotional response to the stressful experience of being handled and that multiple crocodile species play with objects.

Wild animals kept as pets are unable to fully engage in their natural behaviors like exploring, living in family structures, foraging, or—for some species—even regulating their body temperature. It’s not possible to create the freedom and space that these animals experience in the wild. This can cause severe psychological and physical suffering.

Birds kept as pets are generally confined to cages or rooms whereas in the wild, they can fly for miles. Frustrated, highly stressed, and isolated from members of their species, many birds exhibit stereotypic behaviors such as ripping out their own feathers, pacing, and obsessive pecking at cage bars. Yet birds are bred and sold by the tens of thousands in the United States.

Wild animals require specialized, oftentimes expensive care. Different species of amphibians and reptiles need artificial heat and light to stay healthy. For example, setting up a terrarium for a semi-aquatic turtle, such as a red-eared slider, requires meeting multiple precise conditions to artificially create the habitat for a turtle to simply survive—not necessarily thrive.

Despite this, the pet industry often markets small wild animals as “beginner” pets or appropriate for small children. In reality, many wild animals demand more complex care than a dog or cat.

The Sale of Wild “Pets” Fuels the Destructive Wildlife Trade

The wildlife trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry that threatens animals both in the United States and abroad. It’s propelling the decline—and extinction—of numerous plant and animal species. Wild animals sold in stores come from a mix of mills where animals are captively bred and dealers that import animals captured in the wild. But the retail sale of any wild animal exacerbates the problem by making wild animals easily accessible and portraying them as desirable pets. And many reptiles marketed as captive-bred are actually illegally caught in the wild, laundered through reptile farms, and then legally sold in the United States.

Wildlife inspectors will open up a box and find a bunch of beat up, scarred tortoises that are 20 or 30 years old, with permits saying they were bred in captivity in 2016. But they’re forced by their supervisors to stamp ‘clear’ on the permit.

–Senior specialist at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Turtles being sold in boxes at a pet expo.

Animals Suffer in Mills

Pet stores rely on dealers that import wild animals or on commercial breeding facilities, commonly referred to as “mills.” Both business models rely on producing many animals as cheaply as possible. As a result, animals receive inadequate veterinary care (or none at all), live in stressful, unsanitary conditions, and are usually denied any social enrichment. Mortality rates are high and built into the business model. Prior to reaching pet stores or the US, many wild animals also die in transit. They are packed into small containers or crates, without sufficient oxygen and unable to move. Many animals suffocate, starve, or are crushed to death. Wild-caught animals may be injured during capture, are subjected to stressful physical handling, and endure the trauma of being taken from their home. In bird mills, sometimes eggs and newborn birds are taken from their parents in order to induce reproduction in the parents. Removing babies from their parents so young is not only cruel, hand-reared birds can develop socialization problems and, if handled by inexperienced staff, may starve or be injured if hand-fed improperly.

You can lose up to 50 or 60 ball pythons a day. It’s going to happen. Nothing you can do about it.

–North Carolina reptile dealer speaking about the high mortality rate in the reptile trade

Inadequate or Non-Existent Legal Protections for Animals in Mills

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the chief federal animal protection law in the United States. It is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law regulates animals used in research and exhibition (like in circuses and zoos) and some commercial animal breeders such as puppy mills and dealers. Unfortunately, the law provides minimal protections for animals, is chronically underenforced, and excludes numerous species, including reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds.

This means that when these species are commercially bred, they do not even have the paltry protections afforded dogs, cats, and other small mammals. But even animals regulated by the Animal Welfare Act are routinely bred at mills with long track records of poor animal care with little intervention by the federal government. This lack of enforcement led to the proliferation of puppy mills across the country.

Retail Pet Sales Push Animals into Shelters

More than a million animals are killed in United States shelters annually. The retail sale of animals pushes even more animals into shelters, at taxpayers’ expense. Many owners of wild animals become overwhelmed by the care that wild animals require or are unprepared for the lifelong commitment—some wild animal species live for decades. This creates a significant burden on shelters, which struggle to find appropriate homes for wild animals, and already limited municipal resources.

Snakes being sold in boxes at a pet expo.

Wild Animals Kept as Pets Disrupt Ecosystems

Not every animal is relinquished to a shelter, others are abandoned outside into unfamiliar habitats not designed to support them. Some animals die quickly, killed by predators, exposure, or starvation. But other animals will adapt and breed, altering the ecosystem and threatening the survival of native species. Non-native animals can introduce new diseases and compete for resources like food and habitats.

Stories about formerly owned wild animals wreaking havoc on local ecosystems are regularly in the news. Some states have banned the possession of certain species due to their impacts, such as Florida which banned tegus and green iguanas and Massachusetts which banned red-eared sliders.

Frankly, I wish we would have prohibited [red-eared sliders] in the pet trade 15 years ago.

–Thomas French, former Assistant Director of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program

The Wildlife Trade Threatens Public Health

The commercial exploitation of wild animals is a serious public health risk. More than 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife. Wild animals kept as pets are either captured from the wild or intensively bred in low-welfare conditions. Forcing animals into unnaturally close interactions with humans and animals they would not encounter in the wild coupled with the animals’ high stress increases the risk of disease.

Reptiles, amphibians, and other small mammals are a common source of Salmonella infection in humans. Salmonella exists in the digestive tracts of healthy reptiles and amphibians, but it can cause severe illness or death, especially in certain populations such as pregnant individuals, young children, and the elderly. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges families with children under the age of five not to keep reptiles and amphibians as pets.

In an effort to decrease Salmonella outbreaks, the United States banned the sale of turtles smaller than 4 inches in length in 1975. People frequently purchased these tiny turtles as pets for children who were prone to putting them in their mouths and less likely to wash their hands after interactions. But Salmonella infections from reptiles and amphibians continue to be a problem. While turtles are a common source, captive bearded dragons, geckos, and African dwarf frogs are just a few of the species sold in stores that are also implicated in Salmonella outbreaks.

Reptile-associated Salmonella infections are more likely to be associated with invasive disease, more commonly lead to hospitalization, and more frequently involve infants than do other Salmonella infections.

–Reptiles, Amphibians, and Human Salmonella Infection: A Population-Based, Case-Control Study
Bearded dragon resting on a rock.


Take Action: Gather Information About Your Community


Are there stores selling animals in your community?

If so, which species? You can conduct your research both online and in-person. Be sure to record any unsanitary conditions or injured animals you observe in stores with dates and times. If you’re asked to leave, do so without comment or protest and be polite. Keep a list of stores with location, species sold, and any other pertinent information. Finally, search online (including social media and review sites like Yelp) for complaints or negative news stories about the stores.

Are there local groups working on animal protection issues in your community?

These groups are natural allies to your campaign and could help amplify your message. Keep a list of potential groups to reach out to. Even if the group isn’t interested in this ordinance, you could also learn from them by asking about their successes and obstacles to help inform your work.

Has the local legislature recently considered animal legislation?

Knowing whether animal legislation has been considered or adopted will give you better insight into which legislators might be interested in championing your ordinance and whether the legislature will be receptive. Note how each legislator voted on the measures as well.


Take Action: Moving Legislators

It’s best to focus on changing laws in the community where you live and vote. While you can certainly work on legislation in other communities as part of a coalition, it’s less likely legislators in a different city will be interested in taking on your proposed ordinance. There are exceptions, but generally, we recommend campaigning where you live.


Understanding the Legislative Process


The procedures for enacting legislation at the local level are slightly different in every community. Generally, the ordinance will be introduced by a city or county legislator, usually called a council member or commissioner. After the ordinance is introduced, a committee may review the bill and hold a hearing. In other communities, the full council may review it immediately. Information about the process may be available on your city’s website or you could attend council meetings in-person or online (many meetings are streamed to the public and available for viewing later) to get a feel for the procedure. City clerks can also be a helpful source of information.


Larger cities may have more complex legislative procedures. It may also be harder to change policies in larger communities. For example, New York City has 51 elected council members. The legislative process and the work required to pass legislation in New York City is often closer to that of a state legislature.

Setting Up a Meeting With Your Legislator


You need to find a council member who will introduce the ordinance. Start by setting up a meeting. Use these tips:


Call or email to schedule a meeting (either in-person or online).

Explain why you’re requesting the meeting and identify yourself as a constituent. Attach a factsheet (included at the end of this toolkit) and the model Cambridge ordinance.

Remember that legislators are elected to represent their constituents’ interests.

They should be receptive to hearing your ideas and suggestions.

Don’t be concerned if you meet with a member of the legislator’s staff instead of the legislator.

It’s the staff member’s job to take notes and report back.

Start with your personal representative.

If they’re not receptive or are unresponsive, identify a councilmember with a record of animal protection legislation.

Prepare a short agenda with your speaking points to make sure you cover everything.

Explain why this issue is important to you.

If the legislator is receptive, ask for tips on moving the ordinance through the legislative process.

They might be able to suggest other people you should talk to.


Meeting With Your Legislator

Invite one to two other constituents who support the ordinance to join the meeting. One person should be the primary speaker while someone else takes notes. Share your strongest arguments as succinctly as possible.

Bring a copy of the Cambridge ordinance, factsheets, and information about the pet stores in your area, if relevant. Anticipate your opponents’ arguments and be prepared with answers. Below are questions that you might be asked:

  1. Why does the community need a retail pet sale ban?
  2. How does the proposed ordinance protect animals?
  3. What will the ordinance’s impact be on local businesses?
  4. Do existing state or federal laws already address this issue?
  5. Do any neighboring communities have retail pet sale bans?
  6. Who in the community supports a retail pet sale ban?

Don’t shy away from tough questions or sugarcoat your answers. It’s important to acknowledge that some pet stores will oppose the ordinance because this information will ultimately come out anyways.

Additional Tips for a Successful Meeting

  • Be professional and polite.
  • Be clear with your request—that you would like the legislator to introduce an ordinance banning the retail sale of animals. It’s easier than you think to become sidetracked or speak in generalities.
  • If you’re asked questions that you don’t know the answer to, don’t try to answer them. Simply say that you will research the question and get back to them later.
  • Don’t make negative statements about the character or values of a specific person, group, or company, such as “they don’t care about animals” or “they’re just in it for the money.” Stick to the facts such as the lack of protections for many types of animals sold in stores, the welfare issues involved in commercial breeding, and the impact of non-native animals on local ecosystems.

Afterward, send an email thanking the legislator for meeting with you. Answer any outstanding questions and restate any promises or commitments that the legislator made. For example, if the legislator said that they would ask a staff member to look into the issue, reiterate that and state that you will follow up to ask if progress has been made. If the legislator opposes the ordinance or didn’t express any interest in taking it on, still thank them for listening to you.

Two quaker parakeets perched on a branch.

Take Action: Moving Your Community

Mobilizing your community in support of the ordinance is critical to its success. Legislators are more likely to be swayed if they know many of their constituents support it. Grassroots advocacy is the term used to describe organizing the public to contact their government officials on a particular issue. Below are tactics to help you reach as many people as possible.

Coalition Building

A coalition is a network of individuals and groups working toward a common goal. A strong coalition demonstrates that the ordinance has a strong backing and that different stakeholders’ viewpoints are being heard. There are different kinds of coalitions. Some coalitions are formal, with a name, social media pages, and a website. Other times “coalition” could mean a loose network of groups who simply add their name to a sign-on letter you write. Coalition members might contact their members about the ordinance or lobby legislators individually. Potential coalition members include animal advocacy groups, rescue groups, public health and environmental protection organizations, animal shelters, sanctuaries, pet stores that do not sell animals, and faith-based groups.

Raising Awareness

Use social media and traditional media to educate your community about the problems with selling animals in stores and your campaign.

Graphic of a mail envelope.

Letters to the editor in the local paper are a great way to raise awareness about an issue and catch the attention of local officials. These letters are short, often less than 200 words, but find your local papers’ submission guidelines before starting. Always use your own words instead of copying and pasting something you read online (which can’t be printed). Use the information in this toolkit to start telling your own story. Keep the letter local by connecting it to recent events in your community or the world. For example, tie the public health issues associated with the wildlife trade to the COVID-19 pandemic. If your letter is published, let us know at

Graphic of a piece of paper and pencil.

If the ordinance is introduced or the campaign gains steam, contact local media to let them know about it. Send a brief email to local papers that outlines the issue, the ordinance, and your campaign. When speaking with journalists, rely on the arguments laid out in this toolkit or ones that you’ve drafted. It can be easy to get off-topic, and that part of your conversation could end up being what’s printed. This is your chance to showcase your strongest arguments, and the best way to ensure they are publicized is by staying on message. Jot down the top three arguments you would like to focus on (your “talking points”) and stick to them. Short, clear statements are most likely to be picked up as quotes or soundbites.

Graphic of social media logos.

Use social media to inform the community about your campaign, educate people about the problems with the retail sale of animals, and engage with elected officials. Asking community members to contact and tag their elected officials on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in support of the ordinance is another way to let legislators know that many people care about this issue. Refrain from attacking or posting negative comments about legislators. It reflects poorly on your campaign and can make people wary about working with you. As stated earlier, always stick to the policy issues.

hamster in cage

After the Ordinance Is Introduced


Lobbying Legislators

You should plan on meeting with—or at least contacting—every member of the legislature to explain why this ordinance is important. Follow the same meeting tips listed above. Be sure to bring factsheets and a copy of the proposed ordinance in addition to sending them beforehand.


Action Alerts


Once the ordinance is introduced, you need to get as many community members as possible to contact legislators in support. One of the most efficient ways to do this is to email an “action alert.” You’ve likely received an action alert from a nonprofit before. It’s simply an email that asks you to do something (like call or email a legislator) in support of a bill. Action alerts from nonprofits are usually automated—you enter your address and click a button to send a message to legislators. While you likely won’t have the ability to create an automated alert, personalized outreach to legislators carries more weight, so don’t let that deter you.


Click to view a sample action alert for a retail pet sale ban.

The Smithville City Council is considering an ordinance that would protect hundreds of animals in our community from suffering. Ordinance XYZ would prohibit the retail sale of animals in pet stores, helping shut down inhumane commercial breeding facilities (also known as “mills”) and the destructive wildlife trade. We need as many Smithville residents as possible to contact the city council and tell legislators that you support Ordinance XYZ and care about protecting animals.


1. Contact councilmembers by sending an email to Please edit the message below so they don’t all look the same:


Dear Smithville City Council, I’m a Smithville constituent, and I encourage you to vote YES on Ordinance XYZ, banning the retail sale of animals in Smithville. Virtually all animals sold in stores in Smithville come from commercial breeding facilities (“mills”) that churn out animals quickly without regard for their welfare or wild animal importers that contribute to the destructive wildlife trade, jeopardizing the survival of animals across the globe. Investigations into these facilities have revealed severe animal cruelty. Additionally, the retail sale of wild animals poses serious risks to our public health and biodiversity. Reptiles and amphibians are a significant source of Salmonella infection in children, and non-native wild animals (former pets) are wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems across the country. Our community cares about protecting animals, and our laws should reflect that. Please vote YES on Ordinance XYZ.


2. Forward this email to other Smithville residents and ask them to take action.


Send the email to anyone you think might be supportive, as well as to coalition members for them to send to their lists. But only include people who actually live in the community. Emails or communications from people who don’t live (and vote!) in the area frustrate legislators and hurt your efforts. Additionally, share the alert on social media and encourage coalition members, friends, and family to do the same.


Beyond action alerts, think creatively about ways to reach people in your community such as posting on sites like Nextdoor or Facebook neighborhood groups. If you’re part of an existing group that tables at community events, consider creating a flyer.


Letters of Support


Experts are an exception to the rule about only having community members contact legislators. Recruit experts, such as wildlife veterinarians, shelter directors, or staff members at an animal nonprofit, to send letters to the council. In addition to helping explain an issue, these letters signal that there is broad support for the ordinance.



Learn what happens when an ordinance is introduced.

Once an ordinance is introduced, it will be discussed during at least one council meeting. Plan to testify along with other coalition members. Organize your testimony ahead of time so you and other advocates can lay out your strongest arguments and not repeat points. For example, someone can speak about the cruel breeding industry, someone else can speak about public health, and someone else can speak about the impact of abandoned wild animals on the environment.

Learn how to handle difficult questions.

Anticipate difficult questions and make sure they’re addressed in someone’s testimony. Opponents will likely argue that they only source their animals from “reputable” sources or “approved” vendors or that the industry is already regulated by the federal government. Rebuttals to these claims are available in the factsheets at the end of the toolkit.

Red-eared slider turtle in the wild on a pond.


Don’t be discouraged if your efforts don’t result in an ordinance. Simply meeting with legislators and raising this issue is valuable. It helps move the needle and lays the groundwork for future change. Good luck, and please keep us posted on your work!

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at if you need more information or help with your activities.

Download the full toolkit