After three hours of testimony for and against a proposed ban on the retail sale of puppies in Suffolk County, the County Legislature’s public hearing was recessed to Aug. 2 on the motion of its sponsor, Leg. Jon Cooper of Huntington.
“I can see I’m going to need to make some revisions,” Cooper said as his legislative colleagues groaned at his motion to recess, rather than close, the hearing.
Cooper said in an interview after the legislative meeting ended later Tuesday night he wasn’t sure yet what revisions he’d like to make.
“This gives me almost five weeks to think about everything we heard today,” Cooper said.
And the legislators heard a lot.
From proponents of the ban, they heard about the reputed horrors of mass-breeders, most located out of state, dubbed puppy mills: female dogs almost constantly pregnant or nursing; dogs kept in cages stacked one atop the other, filthy from the urine and feces raining down upon them from the cage above; genetic defects perpetuated from generation to generation.
From several Suffolk County pet store owners who sell puppies, they heard that the proposal would put them out of business but do nothing to stop puppy mills, which they, professed to condemn. To a person, each said they dealt only with “responsible breeders.”
Cooper asked each of the pet store owners where he or she bought their puppies. Except for one who said he dealt with a broker, they all said they bought dogs from a breeder in Missouri — a state that’s home to numerous mass-breeder dog farms.
The aim of the measure is to help eliminate the retail market for puppies originating from commercial mass breeders, according to its sponsor.
“Puppy mills are purveyors of animal cruelty for the purpose of profit,” said Pamela Green, executive director
of Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton. The conditions dogs at these facilities live in are squalid and inhumane, she said.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture does little to enforce the minimum standards of care,” Green said. “Thirty-two weeks out of every year, female dogs are either nursing, mating or pregnant,” she said.
Green said her shelter has seen many dogs rescued from puppy mills whose “physical appearance indicates severe neglect.”
“With four to six million euthanized in animal shelters every year, often at taxpayer expense, it makes no sense to continue mass breeding puppies for profit,” Green told legislators.
“All pet stores on Long Island obtain their puppies from puppy mills,” Green said.
Many other speakers echoed Green’s sentiments, from the director of Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons to consumers who educated themselves about puppy mills and long to help shut them down, to activists like Deborah Brown of the Companion Animal Protection Society, based in Cohasset, Mass.
But pet store owner Jeff Silverstein of Manhattan, who said he has been in the business for 25 years, called some of the statements made by animal advocates “ridiculous and untrue.”
“I have no interest in selling anyone a sick dog,” Silverstein said. “I have an impeccable reputation.”
Cooper’s proposal would “push consumers to buy puppies on the internet which will only enrich puppy mills” rather than put them out of business, according to Silverstein.
Harrice Bernstein of Center Moriches, who described herself as a cat breeder, also opposed the bill.
“Puppy mill is a pejorative term coined by animal activists like PETA,” Bernstein said. “Some of those organizations are on the domestic terrorists list,” she said.
“This proposal appears to constitute illegal restraint of trade,” Bernstein said. “It may interfeere with interstate commerce and violate state law, which specifically pre-empts local laws such as this proposal,” she said.
Cooper said Tuesday morning he does not believe his proposal violates state law, which regulates pet dealers, who must be licensed by the state agriculture department. Cooper hopes the law, if passed, will spur similar measures in other municipalities and by the state itself.
If his bill becomes law in Suffolk County, Suffolk will be the first municipality in New York State to ban retail sales of puppies at pet stores. Albequerque, N.M. was first city in the country to enact such a ban. A handful of others have also adopted a similar ban, and several more are considering it.
The Town of Amherst, near Buffalo, considered and rejected a similar bill in February. Lorry Schlick, president of Western New York Citizens Against Puppy Mills, who fought for the ban, said she hopes Suffolk is successful in adopting it.
“It is time for change and I give Jon Cooper all the credit in the world for trying to make this happen,” Schlick said.