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Sportsman’s Kennels, Puppy Experience file lawsuits over Riverhead’s new ‘puppy mill’ law

Riverhead Town’s so-called “puppy mill” law has landed in court. 

Sportsman’s Kennels in Manorville, a commercial dog breeder and retailer, filed a lawsuit challenging the new law on Nov. 3, saying it will put them out of business and asking that the law be declared null and void and prohibiting the town from enforcing it. 

In addition, Puppy Experience in Aquebogue has filed a separate lawsuit on Thursday, Nov. 11.

The town law, approved in October, banned the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits.

The law proposes to break “the puppy mill pipeline” and to “promote animal welfare and encourage best practices in the breeding and purchasing of dogs, cats and rabbits offered for retail sale in the Town of Riverhead,” according to the resolution that was unanimously approved at the Town Board Oct. 5 meeting. It becomes effective on Jan. 3, 2022. 

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.”

“We’re licensed by New York State and [former] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo signed a bill that says you can regulate animal sales but you cannot ban animal sales,” said Keith Lewin, an owner of Puppy Experience, in an interview. “I’m licensed and I’m following Suffolk County’s guidelines, I’m getting inspected by (the state division of) Agriculture and Markets and by Suffolk County Consumer Affairs. It’s crazy that Riverhead thinks it can overreach.”

Mr. Lewin believes he will win, but that taxpayers will have to spend a lot of money.

The law only applied to Puppy Experience and Sportsman’s Kennel, also known as American Breeders Associates.

In the lawsuit, Sportsman’s says it has a Pet Dealers License issued by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and has engaged in the business of breeding and selling dogs to the public at the same location since 1969. 

The town law makes it illegal for any commercial establishment in the town to sell dogs that are not obtained from a town or county shelter or animal control agency; a humane society; or a state-registered non-profit rescue organization. 

Sportsman said in its lawsuit that enforcement of law “will terminate Sportsman’s 52-year business of breeding and selling dogs.”

It says Sportsman’s raises and maintain’s its dogs in a “healthy and safe manner.”

Sportsman’s also states in its lawsuit that the town law “is in direct violation of state general law,” that provides that any law governing the health or safety of animals acquired or maintained by pet dealers may not result in essentially banning all sales of dogs or cats raised and maintained in a healthy and safe manner.

They say the law is aimed at protecting responsible breeders, rather than outlawing dog breeding altogether. 

The town heard mostly support for the law during public hearings prior to its adoption. Diane Madden, an animal-rights advocate and co-founder of Hope for Hempstead Shelter, said passing the law would be an example for other municipalities to follow.

“There are so many people watching this board, because if you do this, first of all, you’ll be a group of heroes in the animal welfare community,” she said. “But also, we are going to take what you do and wave it high, and set you as an example of what can be done for taxpayers.”

“There are few times when you have the opportunity to lead by example,” said Councilman Ken Rothwell, who proposed the law. “I feel like the State of New York will eventually catch up to us. But when you see an inhumane practice and we have an opportunity to take action, I intend to do that.”