The Empire State Should Do Right By Dogs

Friday, June 6, 2014 - 4:30pm
NY County Moves to Regulate Pet Dealers, but Could Do Better

Earlier this week, legislators in Suffolk County, New York—which occupies the eastern half of Long Island—passed a local ordinance regulating the sale of puppies in pet stores, becoming the first locality in the state to take advantage of a recent change to state law that allows municipalities to regulate pet dealers. While New York State finally allows local governments to enact and enforce tougher laws on pet stores, they cannot enact outright bans on the sale of puppies. Despite this, there are still some very effective alternatives to keep puppy mill puppies out New York’s pet shops.

We commend the county for its desire to do what our state’s government is not doing—it is the right instinct, and we hope this well-intentioned legislation will have some positive results for dogs and consumers.

However, we urge other communities interested in fighting puppy mill cruelty to pursue more targeted and effective models for such legislation. The Suffolk County approach prohibits pet stores from selling puppies who come from breeders with certain violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), relying on these standards as indicators of humane care. The problem with this approach is that federal standards are too minimal to screen out many significant, well-established welfare problems. For Suffolk County, this means that puppy mill puppies will still likely be sold in pet stores. Given what we’ve learned from years of helping law enforcement handle puppy mill raids, we believe that basing regulation of pet store sales on the inadequate and poorly enforced USDA standards is a limited approach, especially given the shortcomings of current federal law.

Under USDA standards, dogs in commercial breeding facilities can legally be kept in tiny wire-floored cages, stacked on top of one another, for their entire lives. We have witnessed and treated the sores and painful injuries dogs endure when they live 24/7—with no relief—on these wire floors. We have walked into puppy mills that were considered compliant with USDA standards and found female dogs whose bodies are broken down from continuous, unrelieved breeding—breeders do not, legally, ever have to skip a cycle and give a mother dog’s body a chance for recovery. These dogs stare back at us through lackluster eyes reflecting their broken spirits and worn out bodies, legs bowed from depleted bones and coats dull from the endless nursing and exhaustion.

Take a look at our gallery of breeder photos taken by federal inspectors during routine inspections of licensed facilities and see for yourself where most pet store puppies really come from and what it means for a breeder to be USDA-licensed and compliant with the regulations this new ordinance deems acceptable. To illustrate what’s legal, the photo below depicts housing conditions that are totally legal under federal law. The dogs in the picture can be kept in the cages shown for their entire lives, churning out litter after litter of puppies.

Sutmiller, Dorothy & Johnny & Shawn, USDA License #73A2583. Inspection on June 12, 2013.

Even if the standards were adequate, they're poorly enforced. Take a look at a scathing report from the Inspector General on the USDA's lax enforcement of the law regulating breeders (heads up, it's a little graphic!) and judge for yourself whether basing pet store regulation on the USDA system is enough to keep all puppies from puppy mills out of pet stores. We don't think it is. Violations like the ones in the pictures below demonstrate just how systemic the problems are and how both enforcement and the standards themselves are lacking.

Puppies’ feet falling through wire flooring. Miller, Eli, USDA License #43A5541. Inspection on August 18, 2011.

Sores between a dog’s toes from living on wire flooring. Lapp, Elmer, USDA License #32A0363. Inspection on December 14, 2011.

An over-bred female Beagle. Miller, Roy, USDA License #31A0276. Inspection on September 26, 2012.

We realize that a small step forward could be worth taking in some situations, but we believe local governments in the Empire State can do better. New York State’s recent move to allow local governments to enact these ordinances demonstrates an appetite to reduce the cruelty of the pet trade. There’s a better way to achieve this goal than the Suffolk County approach. We know that there are many towns, cities, villages and counties in New York that are considering regulating pet store sales, and we stand at the ready to help them do it in the most effective way possible.

Chihuahua being held by ASPCA staffer

Join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade

By joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, you will receive important alerts from us when we need your help to fight for laws against animal cruelty.