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Bill would ban sale of dogs, cats, rabbits at pet stores, but faces fight in Albany

Puppies play in a cage at a pet

Puppies play in a cage at a pet store in Columbia, Md., on Aug. 26, 2019. Credit: AP / Jose Luis Magana

ALBANY — A bill targeting "puppy mills" would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores in New York, but state and national organizations of dog owners and kennels are lobbying hard for the measure's defeat.

Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and Senate co-sponsor Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) say puppy mill wholesalers can force females to reproduce constantly, often with too little water, food, medical attention and space.

"With so many good animals in need of rescue, there is no need for puppy mills that abuse animals to supply pet stores," Gianaris, the deputy Senate majority leader, said in an interview with Newsday.

"Our four-legged companions should be treated with respect, not like commodities," Gianaris said.

But the measure faces an aggressive lobbying campaign by opponents including the Associated Dog Clubs of New York State, which represents clubs of owners of purebred dogs, show dogs and pets, and the American Kennel Club, which promotes performance and purebred dogs.

The Associated Dog Clubs say the bill will increase the price of pets for consumers, cost jobs at retailers and decrease the choice of breeds available.

The group argues that many wholesale providers of pets to stores treat animals humanely, and that pet retailers already face government inspections, including by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also, New York’s Pet Lemon Law enables consumers to get refunds, replacement or reimbursement for veterinary expenses within 14 days of pet purchases at stores, said Tom Delaney, vice president of the Associated Dog Clubs.

"There will be no impact on animal cruelty issues," Delaney said in an interview.

"Bad breeders will still get their dogs to the market, either by direct-to-the-consumer sales or via rescue organizations that are willing to pay for the supply of dogs that they need," Delaney said.

Last week, the puppy mill legislation cleared a major hurdle when it was approved by the Assembly and Senate agriculture committees.

This week, the measure could advance to the Senate floor for a vote and to the powerful Assembly Codes Committee, which then could send the bill to the Assembly floor.

A year ago, the puppy mill bill died in the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Gianaris' and Rosenthal's bill would prohibit the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at the more than 70 shops statewide, most of them located in the New York City and Long Island areas, that sell pets.

New York has more pet stores than any other state, according to the U.S. Humane Society.

Under the measure, stores could host adoption events held by nonprofit humane societies and associations for rescued or abandoned animals, which could help attract customers for pet products and grooming.

Animal shelters and reputable, inspected purebred breeders also could continue to sell or provide pets to individual buyers.

Maine, California and Maryland have laws similar to Gianaris' and Rosenthal's proposal, according to the U.S. Humane Society.

The Associated Dog Clubs, which uses prominent Albany lobbyists Bruce W. Geiger & Associates, and the American Kennel Club are expected to press hard for the bill's defeat.

On its website, the Associated Dog Clubs says it confronts "the onslaught of legislation attempting to curb small hobby breeders and performance dogs … Many well-meaning [people] have fallen for the myth that all breeders must be puppy mills and any type of [animal] performance training must be cruel."

The American Kennel Club said the Gianaris-Rosenthal bill "assumes that animal care professionals who breed and raise pets are categorically irresponsible or cruel. This is simply inaccurate."

The bill "represents a real threat to responsible choice, the well-being of dogs, and responsible dog owners," the American Kennel Club said in a statement.

But the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Human Society of the United States are strong supporters of the bill.

"Having one of the country’s highest concentrations of pet stores that sell puppies, New York State needs to end the sale of cruelly bred puppy mill dogs in pet shops," said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO.

"Shutting down the puppy mill pipeline will help stop unscrupulous breeders from engaging in — and profiting from — unconscionable brutality," Bershadker said.

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