Hula is a good girl. She gets overly excited when guests visit, and sometimes she pokes her nose through the backyard fence and barks. But she follows one important rule: She avoids the room between the kitchen and the driveway.
No dogs are allowed inside. Hula, a 7-year-old Belgian shepherd mix, learned quickly when her human parents renovated the space in November 2022, adding an oven, freezer, cooktop and mixers. “She knows not to go in there,” says Hula’s mom, who uses the pet-free zone for a homemade cookie business and asked to remain anonymous for this piece.
The door mostly stays closed anyway, creating clear boundaries between the main kitchen for family meals and the workspace for “cottage food,” which refers to homemade food for sale. The setup eliminates any sanitation concerns about indoor pets.
“I have really high standards for myself,” says Hula’s mom. “My product is a reflection of me and my integrity.”
Despite the safeguards, Hula’s existence jeopardizes the business. North Carolina, where the family lives, bans pets in homes used for cottage food production. The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services makes no exceptions. Even a goldfish or hamster could turn an otherwise legal business into a criminal enterprise.
The pet prohibition puts Hula’s mom in a bind. She could stop selling cookies, move to another state, or lease space in a commercial kitchen, which would mean driving 30 minutes each way to bake on a fixed schedule while paying thousands of dollars in rent—killing flexibility and profit.
The other options are unthinkable. The family could return Hula to the shelter where they rescued her as a puppy. Or they could banish her permanently to the backyard. Hula’s mom refuses.
“Your pet is part of your family,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to make me choose between business and family.”
Rather than comply, Hula’s mom took her cottage food operation underground. She pays taxes and obeys other laws, but she skips the mandatory home inspection and certification. Now she must look over her shoulders when she bakes. She cannot advertise, participate in big community events, or do anything else to draw attention to herself.
Too much success could alert government agents, who could show up and bust her. No puppy dog eyes could stop the assault on economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living in a safe and responsible manner.
The zero-tolerance pet policy is just one example of misguided and sometimes unconstitutional cottage food restrictions nationwide. All 50 states and Washington, DC, authorize these home-based businesses. But most jurisdictions also hold them back.
Our public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, filed lawsuits in Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Jersey to end some of the most stifling cottage food regulations. We sued Wisconsin twice. Yet these are not the only states with problems.
Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington state cap annual revenue at $25,000, leaving little room for profit after expenses. Hawaii tires online sales and mail-order delivery. Many