By Nicholas Wurm and Josh Joseph
At the Long Island Pet Expo, tucked between a Medford veterinarian and a booth selling fleece pet coats, Morgan Miller is hard to spot. Dogs on leashes and in strollers pass by without so much as a sniff, led by their owners deeper into the gymnasium at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. In this ocean of pets and pet owners, boutique dog food stands and lizard salesmen, her table, representing the Humane Society, is not particularly flashy with its laminated signs and free lollipops.
But that doesn’t mean her reason for being there is any less important.
Miller and the Humane Society were at the Expo to raise support for a bill aiming to stop the flow of animals coming into the state from unethical, unregulated sources. The bill passed unanimously through the State Senate’s Domestic Animal Welfare Committee on February 3, and comes in the aftermath of a 2017 Humane Society investigation into Manhattan’s Chelsea Kennel Club that uncovered widespread abuse and neglect. A similar 2011 investigation found more than 100 New York City pet stores sourced their animals from puppy mills — large-scale, often abusive factory breeding farms.
“[The proposed bill] would prohibit the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores [where] the vast majority of [their stock] comes from puppy mills, rabbit mills and cat mills,” Miller said. “We’re asking people to reach out to their senators and their state legislators, to tell them they support the bill.”
Around 80 pet stores in New York State, 20 of them on Long Island, sell dogs, cats and rabbits today, according to research from the Humane Society. Instead of selling animals, these stores would be encouraged to foster relationships with local shelters to display animals for adoption — or shift their focus to pet care and other services.
“[These services] have proven very successful for PetSmart, Petco and other places to bring in customers and repeat customers like pet stores don’t,” Miller said. “Puppy selling pet stores don’t really have repeat customers. They don’t really build a customer base that same way.”
But pet stores are not as willing to give up their main source of revenue. Long Island pet store owners and other members of the pet retail industry that would be affected by the proposal formed People United to Protect Pet Integrity (PUPPI) to publicly oppose the bill in 2017, when it was first introduced. The coalition aims to promote consumers’ freedom to shop or adopt in the state. Another nationwide industry group, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), said the bad actors targeted by this legislation will go untouched while responsible pet store owners pay the price.
“Sales bans fail to distinguish between those who breed responsibly and those who put profits before pet care, do nothing to shut down bad breeders across the country, and take away the only pet source that provides legal protections for both animals and consumers,” Mike Bober, the chief executive officer of PIJAC, said in an April 2019 press release. “Under current law, pet stores and licensed breeders are regulated, inspected and required to offer consumer warranties — protections that are not required of any other animal source including shelters and rescues.”
In New York, puppy mills are explicitly prohibited, but they are enabled in certain states through breeding networks that may end in Long Island pet stores. Jenna Jensen, public policy specialist for the Humane Society’s “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign, said the goal is to reduce the demand for factory-bred animals.
“The passage of this bill would eliminate the largest pet store market for puppy mill puppies,” she said. “It would decrease the number of dogs living in breeding facilities, the number of puppies they produce and ultimately the number of breeding facilities that exist.”
The bill may also take some pressure off animal shelters, who often take in dogs that have originally come from puppy mills.
“I think [passing the bill] would be a lot of hard work, and it would take a while to go through, but it would be a good thing to happen because then that would eliminate certain cruelties among dogs,” Jessica Klampfl, a kennel attendant at Almost Home Animal Rescue in Patchogue, said. “It would allow for a lesser [shelter] population, so there would be less need for animal shelters because they would be well taken care of and there wouldn’t be so many homeless.”
There are over 10,000 regulated and unregulated puppy mills in the United States, according to the Illinois-based Puppy Mill Project, an advocacy group working to raise awareness and educate the public about puppy mills. In 2014, Suffolk County enacted what was then the toughest puppy mill legislation in the state — requiring pet stores to provide breeding facility inspection reports on request, and banning the sourcing of animals from suppliers with documented violations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Act.
The bill faces numerous challenges before it will be brought to a floor vote in the New York State Legislature, but it is closer than ever to passage.