NEW YORK — New York lawmakers and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are working together to try to tighten the leash on the puppy mill pipeline.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris has been pushing to pass legislation that would ban all New York pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits.
The animals can currently be found at roughly 80 of the state’s 1,000 pet shops.
“What we have to do is combat it at the retail level, and prohibit the sale,” Gianaris said.
ASCPA President Matt Bershadker said it is highly likely that dogs purchased at New York pet stores came from puppy mills.
“I think the assumption should be – the baseline should be – that every puppy in a pet store has come from a disreputable breeder,” Bershadker said.
He described puppy mills as inhumane spaces.
“It’s an environment where animals are bred indiscriminately. It’s an environment where animals suffer in an unconscionable way,” he said.
The mills are technically regulated by the USDA. Both Gianaris and Bershadker agree that USDA laws are rarely enforced.
“Federal laws are not enforced,” said Gianaris. “And they’ve been enforced less and less over time.”
“The idea that a mill is USDA inspected or certified, or whatever language you want to use, should give consumers absolutely no confidence that that animal has been raised in a humane environment or that its parents are treated in a humane way,” said Bershadker.
New York cannot regulate the puppy mills because they are out of state, but it can control the stores that sell the animals.
The proposed legislation is not designed to bankrupt pet stores or have a significant impact on their bottom line.
According to Gianaris, about 98% of pet store revenue comes from sales of food and supplies.
“We do not want to shut down pet stores,” said Bershadker. “What we want to do is promote a humane model. We want pet stores to partner with their local shelter and with their local rescues to make animals available that need homes.”
The legislation does have opposition.
Tom Delaney, vice president of The Associated Dog Clubs of New York, wholeheartedly agrees with the legislation’s end goal, but not with its strategy.
“I don’t believe that eliminating a pet store eliminates the problem,” said Delaney. “It just makes it so you think it’s solved, but you really haven’t solved it.”
Delaney said he always encourages adoption first and has never referred someone to a pet shop.
He admitted that really high-quality breeders will never sell to a pet shop, but said that there is a section of high-quality, high-volume breeders that do.
Ideally, Delaney wants to heavily fine pet stores that buy from puppy mills.
He pointed to current accountability practices in the garment and tech industries as his example.
“Apple was forced to change the working conditions in China for the people that were assembling an iPhone because of public outrage. And I don’t think this is a whole lot different,” Delaney said.
To prevent an unintended puppy mill purchase, Bershadker recommends asking the breeder to meet both the animal’s parents and to see where the animal is born.
Bershadker said that a breeder willing to share that information is likely reputable. “I would ask consumers to take a minute and think about where these animals came from,” he added.
The legislation has already passed a full vote in the Senate, as well as the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee.
As of Friday, it was in the Assembly’s Codes Committee. Once legislation is voted through two Assembly committees, it must then pass a full Assembly vote before heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for a signature.