Animal welfare advocates in New York are heralding the recent approval of a statewide law that prohibits the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at retail pet stores to “end the puppy mill-to-pet store pipeline and stop abusive breeders” and help more stray and abandoned pets find homes.
The law, which goes into effect in 2024, will not outright bar pet shops from having four-legged friends on display as retailers may charge rescue organizations rent to present ready-to-adopt companion animals. But it has been hailed as a major achievement for animal welfare by its backers.
“Dogs, cats and rabbits across New York deserve loving homes and humane treatment,” said New York state governor Kathy Hochul, who green-lighted the legislation on 15 December. The law, Hochul said, “will make meaningful steps to cut down on harsh treatment and protect the welfare of animals across the state”.
Opponents, who are largely pet shop owners, contend that it will decimate their business and push pet sales into the shadows, potentially ramping up the risk for purchases from breeders of ill repute. Emilio Ortiz, general manager of Citipups pet store in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, criticized the law as harmful to legitimate retailers – and ineffective toward fighting bad actors. The law, he said, doesn’t shut down puppy mills or hold inhumane breeders accountable.
“It doesn’t prohibit them from continuing to sell dogs, either on the internet or face-to-face, and it does not increase the standards of care that these breeders have to abide by,” Ortiz said. “All it does is prohibit the sale of puppies at pet shops. Now, is that going to stop bad pet shops that were working with bad breeders? 100%. But, it’s also going to make it illegal for responsible pet stores that get their dogs from breeders who raised them humanely. It’s going to make it illegal for them to do that – and those are the people that they’re going to put out of business.”
Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, touted the law as a long-sought victory for animals and their pet-parents.
“By ending the sale of cruelly bred puppy mill dogs in state pet shops, New York is shutting down the pipeline that enables retail sellers and commercial breeders to profit from unconscionable brutality,” Bershadker said in a statement.
“As a result, New York will go from having one of the country’s highest concentrations of pet stores that sell puppy mill puppies to a place that refuses to be an accomplice in this cruel process.”
There are 10,000 estimated US puppy mills and a number are notorious for their allegedly inhumane treatment of canines. These commercial breeding facilities churn out puppies for retail pet stores as well as online and direct-to-public sales, such as at flea markets or through classified ads, on a massive scale, with little regard for the animals they’re producing, the Humane Society of the United States said.
As the production of puppies quickly is tantamount to profitability at these outfits, they “disregard” dogs’ emotional and physical health. The organization said that fewer than 3,000 of US puppy mills are regulated by the US’s federal agricultural agency.
“The animals that come from the puppy mills are often not in great shape,” said Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for Animal Care Centers of New York City. “They’re not healthy. They have behavior issues.”
“We really want people to go to shelters – we have a pet overpopulation problem here. There are wonderful pets waiting for people at shelters, and especially as the economy is struggling, people are struggling to keep their pets,” Hansen said. “We, right now, have almost 600 pets looking for a home, and they range from large breed dogs to small breeds. We have some Maltese, we have some Yorkies. The animals that come from us have all been vaccinated, they’ve been sterilized, they’ve been microchipped. They’ve been checked by a vet. So really, it’s the better deal.”
Benjamin Katz, a New York City attorney whose practice focuses on animal-related issues, such as pet custody and estate planning, voiced similar sentiments.
The legislation “encourages people to go to agencies and societies that are geared more towards helping abandoned pets, animals that are on the streets, and also limiting any sales to breeders, who take proper care of these animals,” Katz said. “Puppy mills have been generating puppies and cats and other animals for stores based upon the demand – and based upon profit.”
Dog and cat breeders – which are not banned under this legislation – still work for profit, but legislation prevents them from committing puppy-mill style abuses. “There are strict requirements that they need to meet in order to maintain their licenses and their ability to continue.”
“People are going to be encouraged to adopt rather than to go out and buy, and if they do buy, they’re buying from reputable breeders rather than puppy stores or pet stores that don’t necessarily follow up on the quality of the pets that they’re getting,” Katz said.
Some worry, however, the law might not do enough to prevent abuses – and that another pipeline for puppy mill animals will avail itself.
Richard Bruce Rosenthal, a Long Island, New York attorney who bills himself as “The Dog Lawyer,” said: “I think it’s a good thing to the extent that it stops the stores that are buying from the puppy mills, however the way it’s structured and the way any of these are structured, it’s not stopping the [puppy mill] breeders from selling the dogs – it’s not stopping them from breeding the dogs irresponsibly, and so all that’s going to happen is they’re going to find other ways of selling them.”
Rosenthal, who made clear that he is “not in favor of commercial breeding because of the abuses”, said: “The way it’s done, I don’t think it’s going to effectuate a major change.”
“But if people are looking for a particular type of dog, and they can’t find it in the store, they’re going to start looking online for it,” Rosenthal said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way everything has gone nowadays.”