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Rating system proposed for pet stores

Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper said he's withdrawing a bill that would ban the sale of puppies in county pet stores, but will instead propose a rating system for the retailers so consumers can know they are buying from a reputable breeder.

Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) Thursday acknowledged that his proposed ban violates a state provision barring municipalities from regulating pet stores. His measure, aimed at ridding Suffolk County of so-called puppy mills, had drawn the ire of pet stores and organizations such as the American Kennel Club. Pet store owners opposed the ban because many said they only work with reputable breeders. Kennel Club officials objected because they said the proposal lumped all breeders together regardless of their practices.

Cooper said he plans to introduce his new idea, possibly on Tuesday at the next meeting of the Suffolk legislature. Modeled after Zagat's restaurant guide, he said, "The idea is for educated customers and a marketplace to steer people toward the responsible stores."

Though details have not been fleshed out, Cooper envisions a committee -- possibly made up of a veterinarian, an animal-rights activist and a pet shop owner -- to rate the stores. Stores could choose not to be rated, but Cooper believes they would lose customers. He said the county would be the first he knows of in the nation to adopt such a rating system.

Kennel Club spokeswoman Christina Duffney-Carey and Dan Aug, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, declined to comment until they heard more details. Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), vice chair of the labor committee, which heard the proposed ban, also said she wanted to hear how the rating system would work.

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