A federal judge has upheld Maryland’s ban on retail pet stores selling puppies and kittens, which took effect Jan. 1.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed the bill prohibiting such sales in 2018, making Maryland the second state in the country, behind California, to have such a ban.

Animal rights advocates said the measure would help reduce demand for dogs born in “puppy mills,” an informal term for establishments that breed dogs for profit in inhumane conditions.

Opponents, including the pet store owners who challenged the legislation in court, said that they use responsible breeders and that the law will mean Marylanders have fewer options for finding purebred puppies.

They argued that residents might start looking for puppies online, where they said there is even less regulation than in stores.

State Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the original legislation, has introduced a bill this session to bar retail pet stores from online sales of puppies and kittens. That bill is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 27 in the Senate Finance Committee. No other state has such a ban in place.

The lawsuit to overturn the ban was dismissed Friday by U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander, who wrote in her opinion that “protecting consumers, reducing financial support for mill breeders, and encouraging pet adoption are indisputably legitimate state interests.” 

The lawsuit was brought in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by four pet store owners in Maryland and a Missouri-based breeder and broker.

Plaintiff Jeanea Thomson, who with her husband owns Just Puppies, referred questions to attorney Jonathan Kagan, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Hogan, himself a dog owner, applauded the court’s decision, saying in a statement that the legislation protects “vulnerable animals from inhumane breeding mills.”

Maine also recently passed a law banning the sales of dogs and cats in pet stores, and New York’s legislature is considering similar legislation.

Emily Hovermale, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which lobbied for the legislation in Maryland, said in a statement that Hollander’s ruling “reaffirms that states have the authority to eliminate cruelly-produced animals from their marketplace.”

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.