When speaking about his work as an animal advocate in town government, Councilman James Wooten will often repeat a quote widely attributed to Mahatma Ghandi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
On this front, Riverhead Town and Suffolk County governments have each made great strides over the past few years to better care for and protect animals: this in a state that consistently ranks near the bottom in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual report on animal protection laws in the U.S.
It has been heartening to see that locally — after years of fighting between town officials and animal rights activists — the town in 2013 transferred operation of its dog shelter on Youngs Avenue from the police department to a proven nonprofit group, North Fork Animal Welfare League.
Town Board members should continue working with the group and its financial supporters to find a new site for an upgraded facility. No compelling reasons have been given for not locating that facility at the never-used Henry Pfeifer Community Center building on River Road/Grumman Boulevard.
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Meanwhile, Suffolk County has been doing its part through legislation to, among other things, reduce the number of dogs that end up in shelters to begin with. Those efforts culminated in the Legislature this week with the unanimous passage of a law that will allow the county to regulate the sale of pets here, putting in place a framework for discouraging retailers from buying and selling from unsafe breeders, most commonly referred to as puppy mills.
Suffolk is the first county in the state to adopt such a law, and it comes on the heels of measures the Legislature passed last month to strengthen laws regulating outdoor tethering here as well. In 2010, the county became the first in the nation to pass a law creating a countywide animal abuse registry.
These laws weren’t created in a vacuum. There’s cause and effect at work, and Suffolk County government being on the forefront of animal rights issues in New York is a direct result of the ongoing educational, lobbying and enforcement efforts of local rescue groups and the Suffolk SPCA.
SPCA Chief Roy Gross believes the puppy mill law will significantly reduce the number of dogs sold in the county that have been bred in deplorable conditions. That not only helps in the ongoing, nationwide effort to shut these puppy mills down but it also protects people from getting emotionally attached to a sick or mentally unstable dog, only to have to put that dog down or give it back to the store, or later, a shelter. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January giving local municipalities in New York State the authority to more closely regulate pet dealers. But the state needs to start following Suffolk’s lead and do some of this work itself up in Albany.