BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Puppy Experience on the Main Road in Aquebogue.
Animal rights advocates and pet store owners clashed Tuesday over a proposed Suffolk County law to ban the retail sale of puppies unless pet store owners get the animals from shelters, rescue groups or local breeders.
Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who sponsored the resolution, said the ban is needed because the majority of puppies sold in pet stores are purchased from large-scale commercial breeding operations, known as “puppy mills,” in other parts of the country.
According to the proposed bill, which was subject to a public hearing at Tuesday’s county Legislature meeting in Riverhead, puppy mills breed dogs “like livestock” and sell them as young as five weeks old, despite federal regulations banning the sale of puppies less than eight weeks old.
“This resolution has to do with the horrific conditions in which mother dogs are bred in puppy mills,” Mr. Cooper explained at the meeting, adding that he believes every pet store in the county sells puppies obtained from puppy mills.
A woman who answered the phone at Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, the North Fork’s only pet store, said the proposed law wouldn’t affect her business because she doesn’t “sell dogs from puppy mills.” When asked where the dogs were obtained from she replied, “No comment. Thank you,” and hung up.
Other pet stores in eastern Suffolk did not return calls seeking comment.
Nearly 30 people expressed their opinions on the proposal Tuesday.
While many pet store owners admitted to purchasing their puppies from Missouri — a state Mr. Cooper said is notorious for puppy mills — they denied their breeders were unprofessional.
Huntington resident Al Selmer, who has owned a pet store for 45 years, said he purchases puppies from the Midwest because local breeders won’t do business with him.
“People that breed dogs here do not want to sell to me because they have a market of their own,” Mr. Selmer said. “What this bill will do is have more people selling dogs out of their homes.”
In addition to discouraging puppy mill sales, the law aims to promote animal shelters, rescue organizations and Suffolk County breeders. A breeder is required to register with the state if it breeds more than nine dogs a year, officials said.
Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons in Wainscott, said she’s pleased the ban would discourage consumers from purchasing from pet shops.
“The pitiful state that puppies are displayed in local stores plays to the heartstrings of the unsuspecting public,” Ms. Davison said. “It’s time Suffolk County joins a national trend and bans these businesses that support the puppy mill industry.”
About 2 million puppies are either purchased, sold or adopted across the country each year, Mr. Cooper said, but nearly 5 million dogs die in shelters each year.
Bambi Nicole Osborne, a spokeswoman for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the bill “falls well short” of reducing the population of unwanted animals.
“Breeders, shelters and rescues in Suffolk County do not have the capacity to provide pet owners with all breeds of dogs desired,” Ms. Osborne said. “Banning importation of dogs from outside the county will not stop pet owners from going elsewhere [for] their companion animal of choice.”
Ms. Davison added that the county doesn’t have legal authority to adopt the proposed bill because the state supersedes all regulations related to pet sales.
But Mr. Cooper said he’s confident the bill will pass and be upheld, citing recent bans in New Mexico and Texas.
In addition, Suffolk County became the first municipality in the nation to create an animal abuse registry as a way to shame abusers. In May, the Legislature unanimously approved a new law requiring pet stores, breeders and animal shelters to check the animal abuse registry before allowing the purchase or adoption of animals by prospective pet owners. Mr. Cooper sponsored both bills.
If the puppy ban is approved, the Suffolk County Department of Consumer Affairs would be responsible for enforcement. First-time violators will face a $500 penalty per puppy and a $1,000 penalty per puppy for subsequent offensives.