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Riverhead town hires outside attorney to defend puppy mill legislation

Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, which has filed suit

Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, which has filed suit against Riverhead Town in an attempt to cease the town's puppy mill legislation. Credit: Randee Daddona

With two lawsuits filed against Riverhead to overturn the town’s "puppy mill" legislation approved last month, the town has hired an outside attorney to represent it in the matter.

The town board voted 5-0 at its Dec. 7 meeting to hire John T. Maher, a Manhattan-based attorney, to represent the town in two legal actions that two pet stores and People United to Promote Pet Integrity Inc., a state coalition of pet store owners, brought against them in November in Suffolk County Supreme Court.

The lawsuits were filed after the board voted in early October to make it illegal to sell commercially bred dogs and cats in stores in Riverhead and to outlaw puppy mills. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defines puppy mills as a "large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs."

Melville-based law firm Hamburger, Maxson, Yaffe and Martingale LLP, hired by Sportsman's Kennels, a Manorville "breeder and retailer of dogs" owned by Helen Camlakides, of Riverhead, filed the first lawsuit on Nov. 3. Garden City law firm Gerstman Schwartz LLP, which represents both the coalition and The Puppy Experience, a pet store in Aquebogue owned by Keith Lewin, filed the second lawsuit on Nov. 11.

Lewin, whose store has operated in Riverhead for 15 years, said the law would be detrimental to pet stores like his by making it harder to sell dogs. Under the new rule, pet stores selling dogs, cats and rabbits must prove those animals came from animal shelters, humane societies, animal control agencies or nonprofit rescue groups registered with the state.

"It would put you out of business. It would be closing the doors on your business," Lewis said. "Nobody can pay rent selling dog collars. Stores are closing all over the place because of the online presence, but you cannot buy a dog online on Amazon."

Martingale said his clients had been granted a temporary restraining order on Nov. 4, which is still active, preventing the town from enforcing the legislation.

"One side will be right, one side will be wrong and we’re confident that ultimately the court will decide the Town of Riverhead overstepped when it passed this law," Martingale said.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar declined to comment on any pending litigation but said the town would comply with whatever the court decides.

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