An evenly divided crowd of 100 people turned out Wednesday in Fairfield for a hearing on possible future restrictions on the sale of puppies and kittens in Connecticut.

Members of the pet shop industry said they perform due diligence, screening breeders and paying veterinary bills in cases of sick animals, while avoiding sales from breeders in violation of major U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.

They said that while the pet industry accounts for about 8 percent of dog sales, 92 percent are essentially unregulated and exempt from the state's so-called pet-shop lemon law.

Ed Foucault, owner of All Pets Club, which has four stores and 99 employees in the state, called for the legislative task force on pet shops to pressure the USDA for tighter regulations on kennels.

"What we have to do as a group is we have to go to the federal government and push for stricter guidelines," said Foucault.

"If the government is to protect the public, protect and serve, why not make the puppy lemon law apply to every puppy?" said Pete Noel, owner of the Gentle Giant Pet Store in Meriden.

"Let's protect the public 100 percent of the time."

But Denise Cassano, of the Danbury Animal Welfare Society, said Midwestern puppy brokers have few standards and consumers need to know the conditions where the canines were bred.

"Why is it inhumane when dogs are being mistreated on the property next to us and it's not inhumane when it's not in our face?" Cassano said. "It is consumer fraud and it is an industry run by money. We can't stop these massive breeders outside our borders, but we don't have to accept it here."

Steve Primus, owner of Statewide Pets in Orange, says his kittens are locally bred and he is still liable for $500 vet bills..

He said animal shelters don't have to pay $500 for selling chronically ill dogs.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, co-chairman of the task force, asked Primus whether, when he sells dogs, consumers are properly educated.

"When you come to me you get a choice of many different breeds and I talk to you," Primus said. "I'm a facilitator, not a salesman."

The Task Force on the Sale of Cats & Dogs in Pet Shops, made up of lawmakers, animal-rights activists, a representative of the pet industry, the state Department of Agriculture and a veterinarian, is considering legislation to recommend to the General Assembly next year.

The panel was created after state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, failed last spring in getting support for a bill that would essentially ban the sale of puppies and kittens in state pet shops unless they were rescue or shelter animals.

Kupchick is co-chairman of the task force and hopes to require humane sources of the animals.

"Did you ever think you'd get more business if you went to a different model?" Kupchick asked Primus.

Primus said that if he can't sell dogs and cats, he'll be out of business in a few months.

"You take puppies and kittens out of my store and it's 90 days," he said. "Ninety days."