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State pet store ban would harm dog owners

Puppies at play in a pet store in

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

Deciding to bring a pet into your family is a big decision — and it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You have to do your homework. This includes deciding what breed, temperament, age, grooming needs and other characteristics are the best fit for your family and lifestyle. And it ensures the dog has the right family to meet its needs.

But if some lawmakers have their way, New Yorkers could soon lose the ability to choose a source or breed of their pet — along with the important state consumer protection laws that hold sellers accountable for false advertising and selling sick puppies. A bill under consideration in Albany would ban pet stores from selling purpose-bred puppies from regulated U.S. breeders, as well as cats and rabbits, and require them to showcase animals provided by rescues or shelters from sources that are unregulated or of unknown origin. On the surface, this sounds positive. After all, no one wants to see dogs languishing in shelters, and every dog deserves a good home.

But on closer look, the bill conflates irresponsible pet owners and breeders with regulated, professional breeders. It offers a quick fix that undermines responsible pet choice and dog ownership — and won’t stop bad breeders.

Great pets can come from a variety of sources, including breeders, shelters, rescues and retail pet stores. Those who choose a pet store are looking for a pet they can meet before buying and want the confidence of knowing the store and breeder are regulated, inspected, and that the dogs are sold with consumer protection and health guarantees.

If the bill passes, this will no longer be an option. In fact, the bill actually repeals the law that pet stores must comply with the state consumer protection laws. By limiting pet stores to selling only pets from shelters and rescue operations, pet stores will no longer be required to provide information on health, behavior or temperament issues, or even the dog’s age. And when people can’t obtain a pet that’s an appropriate fit for their lifestyle, the dog is more likely to end up in a shelter.

Although the proposals are touted as a way to put an end to "puppy mills," less than 4% of pets purchased in the U.S. come from pet shops. These proposals actually impact only a very small portion of the pet market — and a regulated portion at that — and ignore unregulated, unscrupulous sellers.

Recent media reports have been full of stories of puppy thefts, scams and the sale of sick puppies. Sadly, this bill will push prospective New York pet owners straight to buying pets from the internet, where these issues are commonplace.

A better solution is expanding the state’s consumer protection laws to protect New Yorkers’ freedom of choice while still holding irresponsible sellers and breeders who sell sick puppies accountable. This punishes bad breeders and sellers while making sure each family and dog has the opportunity for the right match.

We believe that a rescue dog can be a great choice for a pet — but it shouldn’t be the only option. If lawmakers truly want to protect dogs, then New Yorkers should have the ability to choose the right dog for themselves and their families.

Sheila Goffe is vice president of government relations at the American Kennel Club.