Puppy mill sales ban in the works
June 22, 2011 | 06:02 PMLegislation introduced by Majority Leader Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Neck) would ban the retail sale of puppies from puppy mills, thus compelling pet stores in Suffolk to sell only dogs that come from animal shelters, rescue organizations or responsible, county-based breeders that can show the puppies' mother is on the premises.
Violators would be fined $500 or $1,000 per puppy, according to a draft of the legislation.
A second public hearing is set for Tuesday, Aug. 2 in Hauppauge at 6:30 pm, and Cooper expects the Legislature to vote Aug. 16. In the meantime, the county is working with Deborah Howard of Companion Animal Protection Society to make sure the language of the law doesn't clash with interstate commerce rights.
During a three-hour public hearing in Riverhead on Tuesday, about 45 people showed up in support of the draft puppy mill ban but a handful of local pet store owners testified against it, saying their stores are clean and the dogs are treated well on site. But Cooper countered that his bill doesn't target pet stores; rather, it aims to end the supply of puppies from places where they are treated like livestock and live in reprehensible conditions.
Lynne Schoepfer, executive director of Save-A-Pet in Port Jefferson Station, whose organization recently rescued 16 puppy mill dogs from a now-defunct Stony Brook pet store, attested to the abuses at puppy mills, which can range from lack of veterinary care to inadequate shelter and sawdust mixed in with food, which rots dogs' jaws.
Cooper's legislation further says that many puppy mill dogs are sold at five to six weeks of age, despite a federal ban on the sale of puppies less than eight weeks old. Female dogs are often abandoned or killed once they are unable to produce. The dogs in puppy mills are also often crammed into small, unsanitary wire cages; frequently left in their own excrement; unprotected from extreme temperature fluctuations; chronically undernourished; not provided with veterinary care or socialization; and at an increased risk for serious health problems, the bill says. In addition, the puppies are at increased risk of genetic defects caused by inbreeding.
"This Legislature also finds that puppies from puppy mills frequently exhibit health problems which are caused by the harsh conditions and mistreatment of the mother dogs that occurs in these mills. These problems can continue even after the puppies leave the horrible conditions at a puppy mill."
When questioned at the June 21 hearing, some of the Suffolk retailers who spoke said they do get their puppies from Missouri and other areas notorious for puppy mills.
Cooper, who adopted a puppy from Little Shelter in Huntington over a year ago, said his sister in Texas has been involved with puppy mill rescues for about a dozen years now. "She's rescued dozens and dozens of mother dogs from these horrendous conditions," he said, noting that municipalities in New Mexico, Texas and California have already enacted similar bans. "This is something that I think ultimately is going to spread across the country. The concept of selling puppies by pet stores is a practice whose time has come .... to be phased out."
He added that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has minimal regulations on puppy mills but those either aren't enforced or barely meet dogs' subsistence needs. For example, he said, the feds say dogs may be kept in wire cages that are as small as six inches larger than the dog itself.
Little Shelter's executive director, David Ceely, said national chains like Petco, with stores in Selden, Lake Grove and Commack, and PetSmart, in Commack, have already discontinued puppy sales. Representatives from those corporations were not immediately available for comment. Schoepfer said, "It's beneficial to the stores to go humane."
Ceely added that puppy mill bans lead more people to adopt puppies in need of homes rather than buy them.
The legislation states that two million puppies are purchased, sold or adopted each year, while four to five million unwanted dogs die in shelters across America.
Noting that many adoption centers like Little Shelter and Save-A-Pet investigate the homes in which animals are placed, thus further benefitting the puppies and their potential owners by facilitating good matches, Ceely said, "We'll ask basic questions" as well as check references and sometimes visit the home.