Bill would ban pet stores

Read the original article by Tory Parrish at newsday.com here.

Proposed state legislation  that would ban pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits would put those shops out of business if it becomes law, animal retailers said.

“To say that I’m the problem is just a blatant lie. I’m just an easy target because I’m a public business,” said Joe Sollicito, who owns Love My Puppies NY, a 13-year-old pet shop in Wantagh.

The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) in March,  aims to stop the flow of animals from “puppy mills” and other high-volume commercial breeding operations to New York pet stores, the legislators said.

Owner Joe Sollicito said he knows where the
Owner Joe Sollicito said he knows where the dogs he sells at Love My Puppies NY in Wantagh come from.  Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“Often times, these animals have health issues because they were bred in unsanitary and unhealthy ways. The health issues don’t reveal themselves for years, in some cases,” said Gianaris, the Senate’s deputy majority leader.

If the proposal becomes law, pet stores in the state would be allowed to offer space for animal shelters and rescue centers to showcase dogs, cats and rabbits that are available for adoption, instead of the shops selling the animals to customers.  Consumers still would be able to purchase the animals directly from breeders.

Nationally, 6 percent of pet dogs, 3 percent of pet cats and  27 percent of pet rabbits are puchased from pet shops or pet superstores, according to a 2016 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Pet shop advocates said the legislation is unnecessary because shops in New York State sell animals from Class A wholesale breeders certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If enacted, the legislation would destroy the business of Love My Puppies NY, Sollicito said.

“It would be decimated,” said Sollicito, whose shop offers pet grooming and sells mostly hypoallergenic, non-shedding small dogs, such as Maltese, Yorkshire terriers and shih tzus.

He is a responsible dog seller, he said. “I know where they come from.  I know where they were raised.  I know where they were bred …. and I also see the parents of the dogs.”

Joe Sollicito, owner of Love My Puppies NY,
Joe Sollicito, owner of Love My Puppies NY, in Wantagh, plays with puppies in his shop on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

About 30 pet shops across the state, nearly half of which are on Long Island, are members of People United to Protect Pet Integrity Inc., or PUPPI, a nonprofit formed in 2017, said attorney David Schwartz, a founding partner at Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a Garden City firm lobbying against the legislation on behalf of the retailers.

The bills would put New York State’s brick-and-mortar pet stores out of business and drive consumers to black-market animal sellers online, he said. 

“We’re not against regulations.  We’re just for smart regulations,” he said.

Several animal rights groups voiced support for the bills.

The USDA regulates wholesale breeders under the federal Animal Welfare Act, but the standards are “barebones,” said Bill Ketzer, senior legislative director for the Northeast region of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in Manhattan. 

“There’s been a lot of effort on behalf of the animal welfare movement in this country, and certainly in New York State, to try to help state and local governments get a better handle on this situation that’s happening primarily in out-of-state breeding facilities,” he said.

Inhumane, high-volume commercial breeders, such as puppy mills, keep animals in cages that are too small, don’t provide proper veterinary care or hygienic conditions, force female animals to produce litters nonstop and don’t remove genetically compromised animals from their breeding stock, which results in generations of sick animals, the ASPCA said.

“By producing these large numbers of animals to be bought and sold, every single one of those animals who is sold is taking away a chance from a shelter dog or cat or rabbit or another animal to find a good home,” said Ashley Byrne, a Brooklyn-based associate director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia. 

About 300 localities and two states — Maryland and California — have passed bans on the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet stores, according to the ASPCA. Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are considering similar bills.

This is an indication to New York State pet stores that it’s time to change their business models, Rosenthal said.

“Because it’s happening anyway.  People are moving away from buying animals and moving toward adopting animals from shelters, rescues or getting them from reputable breeders,” she said.

Rosenthal and Gianaris’ matching bills have been referred to the Assembly Agriculture Committee and Senate Domestic Animal Welfare Committee, respectively.

The bills are vying for lawmakers’ attention in the final week and a half of the State Legislature’s regular session, which ends June 19.

If the bills don’t make it to the Assembly and Senate floors by June 19, the sponsoring legislators will bring them back up in the next session, they said.

Sources of pet dogs nationally

Shelters and rescue groups — 28 percent

Owners’ friends or relatives — 26 percent

Breeders — 22 percent

Purchases or gifts from strangers — 11 percent

Pet shops or pet superstores — 6 percent

Stray — 5 percent

Offspring of dogs already owned — 2 percent

Veterinarians — 1 percent

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association survey conducted in 2016

Sources of pet cats nationally

Shelters and rescue groups — 31 percent

Owners’ friends or relatives — 25 percent

Strays — 25 percent

Purchases or gifts from strangers — 7 percent

Offspring of cats already owned — 5 percent

Purchases from pet shops or pet superstores — 3 percent

Breeders — 3 percent

Veterinarians — 2 percent

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