Brief Summary of Swap Meet Laws
Zoé Friedland (2016)
Animal swap meets are places where people buy, sell or trade animals in an open-air, flea-market-style setting. Swap meet vendors sell and trade a wide range of animals, from birds, to farm animals, to cats and dogs. Swap meets are local events where people can come together in an informal setting to sell, trade, and barter. In recent years, animal welfare advocates have expressed concern about the treatment of animals at swap meets. Animals are often kept outside without water in hot temperatures, confined in small cages, and stored like warehouse items. Additionally, swap meets may facilitate the spread of diseases from sick animals to humans.
Animal swap meets can be regulated in three ways: by the swap meet organizer, by the locality, or by the state. Some swap meets impose their own restrictions on buyers and sellers. Some localities have adopted ordinances to regulate swap meets in their jurisdictions. On the state level, animal cruelty, pet store, and live market laws regulate swap meets on a limited basis. However, in many places, few laws address the animal welfare concerns of swap meets.
A handful of states have sought to address this vacuum in the last few years by passing legislation directly regulating swap meets. Illinois was the first state to regulate swap meets when it required swap meet organizers to provide the state information about the swap meet 30 days before it occurs. Nebraska has similar procedural requirements related to swap meets. California and Nevada have much more substantive restrictions, and allow animals to be sold at swap meets only if the local jurisdiction has adopted standards for the care and treatment of those animals. Finally, Virginia regulates the sale of dogs and cats at swap meets. These five states illustrate that while it has proven politically untenable to ban animal swap meets altogether, state legislation can regulate the sale of animals at swap meets.
Overview of Swap Meet Laws
Zoé Friedland (2016)
Animal swap meets are places where people buy, sell or trade animals in an open-air, flea-market-style setting. The most commonly sold animals are chickens and other birds, rabbits, pigs, reptiles, and dogs. Swap meets can be outlets for selling smuggled birds and other exotic animals, and for puppy mills that want to skirt commercial regulations. However, for rural farming communities, swap meets can be a way to purchase needed livestock and sell extra animals.
In recent years, animal welfare advocates have expressed concern about the treatment of animals at swap meets. Common complaints include animals being kept in cramped spaces, sometimes piled on top of each other, a lack of water and food even in hot climates, and animals that are too young to be weaned being sold apart from their mothers. Additionally, documented cases of unregulated breeding and unsanitary practices in the transport, display, and sale of these animals can result in high, unmet needs for veterinary care. Consequently, swap meets may contain disease, with customers buying and trading sick animals and spreading zoonotic diseases.
Animal swaps can be regulated in three ways: by the swap meet organizer, by the locality, or by the state. Some swap meets impose their own restrictions on buyers and sellers. Sometimes this includes requirements that vendors provide food, water, and sufficient space for the animals. Other times, however, swap meets are advertised informally on message boards with no restrictions. Additionally, some localities have adopted ordinances to regulate swap meets in their jurisdictions. The penalties for violating these ordinances are typically minimal.
On the state level, animal cruelty, pet store, and live market laws regulate swap meets on a limited basis. However, the scarcity of animal neglect prosecutions and political barriers to enforcing animal neglect laws make criminal sanctions a mostly unhelpful tool for regulating swap meets. Additionally, pet store and live market regulations do not technically apply to swap meets. This leaves swap meets in a legal grey area where vendors and buyers are free to sell, trade, and buy animals with few restrictions.
A handful of states have sought to address this legal vacuum in the last few years by passing legislation directly regulating swap meets. California has the nation’s arguably most comprehensive animal swap meet law. The law allows animals to be sold at swap meets only if the local jurisdiction has adopted standards for the care and treatment of the animals, including the transport of animals to and from the swap meet. Local ordinances must meet certain minimum requirements detailed in the statute, including sanitation, proper ventilation, adequate nutrition, disease prevention, adequate space, proper documentation, recommendations for the new owner, and a business license. If vendors violate the law, they must pay a fine. Nevada’s law follows a similar structure: swap meet vendors can only sell animals in jurisdictions that have adopted local ordinances with certain minimum requirements. However, the minimum requirements for the local ordinances are not listed in the statute itself. Instead, the statute requires local ordinances to contain provisions that are “substantially similar” to other Nevada statutes. The penalty for violating the Nevada law is a misdemeanor. Illinois and Nebraska have procedural requirements for swap meet organizers, and Virginia regulates the sale of dogs and cats at swap meets. All of these laws have broad exceptions: substantive provisions exclude most livestock, including cattle and horses.
Based on the legislative history of these five laws, it seems politically impractical to ban animal swap meets altogether. Even in states where an outright ban was the lawmaker’s original goal, swap meet laws have been scaled back to regulate the sale of animals rather than ban it altogether. States with the most comprehensive swap meet regulations have delegated authority to localities to craft their own ordinances. This trend speaks to the very local nature of swap meets, and state governments’ reluctance to interfere with local governments’ regulation of local issues. It also speaks to the role of lobbyists in watering down unfavorable legislation, as swap meet organizers have their own lobbying associations in many states. On the other side, animal welfare groups hope that states continue to pass legislation that protects both animals that are sold at swap meets and the humans who buy them.