State bill targets puppy mills,  aims to increase pet adoption

Associated Press In this Nov. 11, 2009, file photo, a dog named Cubby is shown at an adoption office in Chester Springs, Pa.

ALBANY — Animal rights advocates are giving four paws up to legislation that would prohibit pet stores in New York from selling dogs and cats from commercial breeders.

"It's long past time that we do something on this here in New York," said State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, the sponsor of the legislation.

The proposal is aimed at hurting the profitability of puppy mills by shrinking their ability to keep stores stocked and nudging consumers to consider adopting rescue animals from shelters.

This week, California became the first state in the nation to require pet stores to sell only rescued companion animals.

Libby Post, director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, said the New York approach will differ from the California statute in that consumers here would not be buying the rescued dogs and cats from the pet shots, but from shelters. The Gianaris bill would allow pet shops to facilitate adoptions of dogs and cats from shelters, but the stores would not be collecting the payments from the consumers, she added.

Having the stores get that money, she said, "would turn the shelters into dealers, and we don't want any part of that," said Post.

But the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council opposes the legislation, arguing it would harm consumer choice and potentially lead some stores to shut down. The council maintains that pet stores are highly regulated, with licensed commercial breeders already facing tight monitoring by the federal government.

Gianaris, however, noted there is no shortage of dogs and cats waiting to be adopted at shelters.

"It's always better to save a life and adopt rather than buy an animal generated out of a puppy mill area," the senator said.

Susan Buckman of Webster, who has been involved in helping rescued dogs for more than a decade, said the Finger Lakes region of New York has become a haven for puppy mills, with more breeders moving into the area following tighter controls being imposed on them in nearby Pennsylvania.

She said the Gianaris measure is needed to take the profit out of the dog mills.

"No responsible breeder would ever give their puppies to a pet store to sell," Buckman said "They want to screen the people" before selling an animal to them.

Gianaris said several chain pet stores no long sell dogs and cats, and the puppy mills will experience the biggest impacts from the legislation.

"The idea is to get at the demand side of things," he said.

The state requires that those breeding 25 or more pets annually register with the state Division of Agriculture and Markets.

Some municipal governments have opted to require breeder licenses for people breeding as few as nine animals annually.

Gianaris said he expects the Legislature will become more active in fostering pet protection measures, with the Senate's new Democratic leadership having just created a Domestic Animal welfare subcommittee, to be headed by recently elected Sen. Monica Martinez, D-Suffolk County.

Martinez authored legislation in her home county that prohibits pet shops from acquiring dogs and cats from hobby breeders or other unregulated sources.

Another dog-related measure that could have legs at the statehouse this year would put a stop to the ability of insurance companies to blacklist certain dog breeds based on their reputation for aggression.

Post argued such discrimination is inappropriate and deprives responsible and loving dog owners the coverage they want to buy.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com