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State law keeps pups, kitties in mind

Pet stores must take better care of animals or risk losing their licenses

August 09, 2012 | 10:09 AM
Soon after buying her new dog, Lorianne LaMarca-Pagano could tell something was wrong with the puppy.

When she visited a veterinarian in 2003, the dog — a Brussels griffon named Charlemagne — was diagnosed with parasites and a corneal ulcer, a sore that forms when a dog has lost layers of its cornea, both of which were treatable. But about six months later, LaMarca-Pagano "noticed a change in my pup."

Lorianne LaMarca-Pagano with Charlemagne, who was put to sleep in 2007 after a battle with kidney disease, high blood pressure and a heart murmur. Photo from Lorianne LaMarca-Pagano
Charlemagne was diagnosed with kidney disease, high blood pressure and a heart murmur, which eventually led to LaMarca-Pagano having to euthanize him in January 2007 at just 3 years old.

His death led LaMarca-Pagano, an Amityville resident, to fulfill a mission of putting a stop to puppy mills — large-scale commercial dog breeding operations that oftentimes severely neglect their animals — and increasing standards in pet stores, which sometimes stock their inventory using puppy mills. LaMarca-Pagano said she purchased Charlemagne from a pet store in Amityville, which acquired her dog from a mill in Kansas.

After years of lobbying for her cause throughout New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Charlemagne's Law on July 18, which goes into effect on Jan. 14, 2013. Under the legislation, any licensed pet dealer must follow new requirements, such as hiring a veterinarian to care for the animals at the facility — including weekends and holidays. The pet store owners must develop a program to respond to diseases and injuries, and increase exercise as well as vaccinate all its animals. The stores must also create an isolated area of their building for sick animals to prevent others from catching illnesses. Stores must also provide daily exercise for dogs, designate an employee to provide daily observation of all animals to judge their health and well-being, and not sell any animal that has been diagnosed with a congenital condition or contagious disease.

A pet store owner could lose his or her license by violating the new law.

Sen. Greg Ball (R,C-Patterson) and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Brooklyn) sponsored the legislation in the Senate and Assembly, respectively.

"Today in our society, our animals are part of our extended family," Senate co-sponsor Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a phone interview last week. "We want to make sure when individuals are purchasing dogs from a store that the individual consumer and the family has some protection that the pet they brought home is going to be healthy."

LaValle said although the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets would oversee the new requirements, the public will also be counted on to inform officials when they believe a pet store isn't up to standard. "The consuming public will be the watchdog in each of our communities and where stores are not treating the animals correctly," he said. Department officials would investigate the complaints at the store following the call.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) co-sponsored the Assembly bill, and said whether or not poor living conditions are a widespread problem, this law is still needed. "Even if it's just one pet store abusing these animals — if all you can previously do is raise your eyebrow, there's not much force in that," he said in a phone interview Monday. "Now we have a law. Expectations are validated by this new law."

In June 2011, The Perfect Puppy on Route 347 in Stony Brook closed after animal rescue groups were notified of dogs being mistreated. In total, 16 dogs were removed from the store, 14 of which were brought to Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, where they were put up for adoption.

Last year, former Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper sponsored legislation that would ban the retail sale of puppies from puppy mills. That legislation would have forced pet stores in the county to sell dogs that only came from animal shelters, rescue organizations or responsible, county-based breeders.

The legislation was withdrawn because it violated state general business law, which relates to the sale of dogs and cats.

Erica Kutzing, operations director of Save-A-Pet, said although the new law does improve the well-being of animals at pet stores, more must be done to shut down puppy mills.

"There needs to be better conditions and veterinarian care," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "That's where real change can happen."

She said consumers don't know the full story when shopping for a pet at a store.

"People walk into pet stores and they see the cute puppy and that's all they see," she said. "What they don't see is that the mother of this puppy is still stuck in a puppy mill."

David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter in Huntington, said the shelter's staff is in support of the law. "It's never good business when you're selling live animals," he said. "Definitely adopt."

Ceely said the source is still the problem, and more must be done to put an end to puppy mills, which often supply these stores and leave the parents to die.

"The worst part about the puppy mills is not necessarily the puppies that get out, but more the dogs that are being bred," he said, and added once the dogs are too old to be bred, they're often killed and tossed out with the garbage. "The problem isn't the puppies that get to the store; they're lucky."

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he voted in favor of the bill. "I felt it was a reasonable bill to improve conditions for animals without putting an undue burden on the owners," he said in a phone interview. "You're taking care of living things, and these are animals that deserve to be treated well and to be in a healthy environment, especially since they're going to be sold to consumers."

Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said consumers and animals alike must be protected.

"Ultimately, what came out was a bill that is good for the protection of animals, that ultimately the veterinary community and pet community could support," he said in a phone interview Monday. "This legislation will address those concerns, do it in a responsible way and make sure consumers are protected, as well as the animals."

In a statement, Assemblyman Jim Conte (R-Huntington Station) said pets are an important part of many families, and should be healthy when a family purchases one.

"This law will help to ensure that consumers receive a healthy animal by requiring pet dealers to provide regular exercise to animals under their care and have proper space to quarantine animals that show signs of illness in order to prevent the further spreading of disease," he said.

LaMarca-Pagano accepted Ball's invitation for her to attend the Senate vote in Albany on June 13. It had passed in the Assembly on June 5.

"I was thinking of Charlemagne and how I kept my promise" of changing the current system for dogs and cats, she said. "Since Charlemagne is gone … I'm still thinking of protecting the puppies and kittens in pet stores."

LaMarca-Pagano said her work would continue even with the passage of the bill. "His legacy lives on in just this law alone, which I'm very proud about."

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