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Proposed ‘puppy mill’ law faces criticism from pet shop owners at public hearing

A proposal that one speaker said would “sever the puppy mill pipeline” drew criticism from pet shop owners, one of whom said it would shut down small businesses and “would not affect the availability for puppy mills to operate as they do now.”

The proposed town law, which would ban the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits by pet stores, was the subject of public hearing before the Riverhead Town Board Wednesday. 

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said there was no recent event or incident that led to the proposal.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while in code revision,” he said. “There has been kind of a movement that we’re aware of in which other jurisdictions have adopted similar legislation aimed at trying to put some limits on the puppy mill scenario.”

“This is really an attempt on our part and lead by example to stop puppy mill operations,” said Councilman Ken Rothwell, who proposed the change at a recent work session.

The proposal requires a “certificate of source” showing where the animal came from and describes a certificate of source as being “any document from a source, town or county animal shelter or animal control agency, humane society, or nonprofit rescue organization declaring the source of the dog or cat on the premises of the pet store or other commercial establishment.”

Carol Sclafani, a licensed veterinary technician who teaches veterinary science, supported the proposal.

“This legislation is not trying to put anyone out of business,” she said. “I believe the town’s intention is to promote animal welfare and encourage the best practices in breeding of dogs, cats and rabbits offered for retail sales.”

Ms. Sclafani said the Humane Society defines a puppy mill as “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers.”

David Schwartz, a representative of People United to Protect Pet Integrity, a coalition of pet store owners, veterinarians and other members of the pet industry, said his group, which represents 16 store owners, opposes the proposal. 

“We wish to strongly express our opposition to the proposed amendment,” which he described as “a total ban on the retail sale of pets.”

He said it would “ban the one completely transparent and regulated way to purchase dogs available to families.” 

Mr. Schwartz said the proposal “will only serve to shut down small businesses, and does not affect the ability for ‘puppy mills’ or bad breeders to operate as they do now.”

Keith Lewin, the owner of Puppy Experience on Main Road in Aquebogue, said his business is frequently inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, Suffolk County Consumer Affairs and by the Association Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

“We’re not against regulations,” he said. “We want to be regulated.”

“We’ve never bought any dog from Pennsylvania or Ohio or any of these Amish breeders,” he said. “And there’s horror stories out there. But not where we deal with, because we’re regulated by the United States government. If I can’t trust them, how can we trust you?” 

He said there is a paper trail for every dog they get. 

Emilio Ortiz of New York City, a member of PUPPI, said that complaints are true of certain breeders in certain pet stores. “But is not reflective of the industry as a whole. We can’t just take these bad examples and smear everybody and said every single breeder is like this.”

“I’d like to thank the Town Board for addressing this issue,” said Pam Green, the director of Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton. “And we don’t get our animals from puppy mills. The only time that we possibly get animals from puppy mills are the ones that are missing a leg, missing an eye, or are in horrific condition and emaciated and come from puppy mills when they toss them out.”

She said Ms. Sclafani “is spot on in everything she said.”

The Town Board closed the public hearing except for written comments, which will be accepted until Sept. 20 at the Town Clerk’s office, which closes at 4:30 p.m.