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Bill to ban puppy sales in Suffolk pulled by its sponsor

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Suffolk’s proposed ban on the sale of puppies at pet stores is dead.

County Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Huntington) said he’s pulling his bill after being advised by legislative counsel that it would be pre-empted by state law.

Counsel to the legislature advised him he had “reached the definitive conclusion” that state law precluded Cooper’s attempt at local legislation that would restrict or altogether ban the retail sale of puppies at pet stores in Suffolk County.

That argument was made by pet store owners and trade groups during three hours of testimony at a legislative hearing on Cooper’s bill June 21.

The Dog Federation of New York, which describes itself as “a statewide coalition of dog clubs and organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of caring dog owners,” additionally opposed Cooper’s bill as a wrong-headed and unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce.

During the long and occasionally contentious public hearing, supporters of the measure decried the conditions at so-called puppy mills and urged the legislature to adopt a ban that they said would increase adoptions of rescue dogs. They recounted horror stories of the alleged mistreatment of breeder dogs and puppies being weaned too early arriving ill or dead in their crates after long interstate tractor-trailer rides.

Pet store owners vehemently denied allegations of mistreatment and sick dogs, with most testifying that they did not do business with puppy mills, whether or not they bought puppies from out-of-state breeders or brokers.

After the hearing, Cooper said he believed the vast majority of puppies sold at pet stores were bred in puppy mills and he intended to fine-tune the language of his bill. He subsequently announced plans to make his bill even more restrictive than its original form, which would have allowed pet stores to sell puppies bred within Suffolk County. He would seek to ban puppy sales at pet stores altogether, he said.

2011_0729_cooper_jBut Cooper backed off this week, on advice of counsel.

“I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we have no choice but to withdraw this bill,” he said in a statement posted last night on his Facebook page.  “As a result, the public hearing on this resolution scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 2 has been canceled.”

A similar measure in the upstate Town of Amherst fell by the wayside earlier this year for the same reason.

Cooper said he plans to move ahead with an alternative proposal that would create the nation’s first rating system for pet stores that sell puppies and/or kittens. 

“It will be modeled after rating systems already widely in place nationwide for restaurants,” Cooper said.  The legislator said he is seeking public input on a detailed list of criteria to be used to rate both pet stores and breeding facilities.