Suffolk County approves nation’s first rating system for pet stores

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Puppy Experience on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Suffolk County lawmakers approved a measure Tuesday to create the nation’s first rating program for pet stores, in an effort to curtail the sale of puppies obtained from substandard dog-breeding facilities known as “puppy mills.”

Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), whose bill is modeled after popular restaurant rating systems, said in a press release the voluntary Puppy & Dog Protection Rating Program will reflect the quality of care provided to puppies at pet stores and at dog-breeding facilities.

“This rating system will use the powers of the free market to make pet buyers and the stores that want their business more responsible,” Mr. Cooper said. “Raising the bar will benefit the county’s four-legged residents, as well as our two-legged.”

The program will be administered by an appointed “Pet Store Rating Board” staffed by representatives from the county’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a Long Island-based animal welfare organization and a retired veterinarian chosen by the Long Island Veterinary Medical Association.

Board members will be responsible for inspecting pet stores and breeding facilities to find out how well the animals are treated and what happens to puppies that aren’t sold. The board will also take into consideration how many sick or dead puppies were returned to the store within the past year.

County officials said the board will revoke a store’s rating for one year if it determines a pet store has deliberately misrepresented themselves.

The Department of Consumer Affairs will then publish on its website the board’s finalized pet store ratings. A list of pet stores that chose not to participate in the new rating system will also be published.

Mr. Cooper has sponsored other legislation over the past two years designed to protect animals, including the creation of the nation’s first public registry of convicted animal abusers and a law requiring pet stores, breeders and animal shelters to ask for photo identification in order to check the county’s animal abuse registry prior to allowing the purchase or adoption of animals to prospective pet owners.

Mr. Cooper announced plans to create the new rating system this summer after he failed to pass a law he sponsored that would have banned the sale of puppies at the 37 pet stores operating within the county. It was later determined that state law prohibits local municipalities from enacting legislation to regulate pet stores in such a way.

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