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Pet store owners bark at proposed restrictions

Town Hall Plaza in Hempstead is seen in

Town Hall Plaza in Hempstead is seen in this photo from Dec. 20, 2013. Credit: Ian J. Stark

Hempstead Town Board members are poised to pass a strict pet shop ordinance that would place greater restrictions on stores buying from breeders and increase the space where animals are kept.

Residents and pet shop owners spoke for about two hours during a hearing at yesterday's town board meeting at which the board reserved decision.

Town officials are proposing restrictions on new pet stores that would require 100 square feet per animal. New pet stores would also be required to add sprinkler systems and mandate spaying and neutering of pets before they are sold.

Existing pet stores would be exempt from the space requirement but would have a year to comply with the rest of the law.

The town has revised its ordinance -- from the original draft proposed in June -- and removed a requirement that stores pay a $500,000 bond for future violations, after learning through insurance companies it was unrealistic.

The ruling would affect the three pet stores in the town, in Wantagh, Merrick and Bellmore. A Uniondale-based attorney for the businesses, Christian Browne, and two pet shop owners, Jenice Melgarejo and Joseph Sollicito, said Tuesday that the ordinance was aimed at putting them out of business and stopping additional pet stores from opening.

"This would effectively destroy their business," Browne said. "This would ensure that you won't have any new pet stores opening."

More than a dozen animal welfare activists from across Long Island cheered at his statement as they lauded Supervisor Kate Murray and the board for the ordinance.

"What this law does is reduces the number of animals surrendered or received by the town shelter," animal welfare activist Diane Madden said. "Society made a mistake with these animals, and we have to undo the damage done, to protect the animals and consumers."

Supporters of the bill said animals in pet stores often come from puppy mills and have diseases and genetic defects.

The bill would require a list of breeders approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pet store owners said their animals do not go to shelters if they are not sold, and they only purchase animals from USDA-approved breeders. The pet store owners called the law unfair. "Your town shelter is not full of my puppies," Melgarejo tearfully told the board. "There's no way to say all the ways this will put me out of business."

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