Hundreds of postcards, with visceral images of malnourished golden retriever puppies living in filthy conditions, are flooding the New York governor’s office. A mass email campaign has been launched by national animal rights groups.
However, the pet store industry and its lobbyists have also mobilized. Zoom meetings have been held with the governor’s staff; an employee of a pet store has created a independent campaign of videos with well-treated puppies that have gone viral on TikTok.
Of the hundreds of bills Gov. Kathy Hochul must decide whether to sign before the end of the year, few seem to carry more emotional weight than one affecting the well-being of an electorate that can’t even vote: puppies.
After years of debate, New York state lawmakers approved an invoice in June with rare bipartisan support that would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in New York pet stores, setting off a showdown between animal welfare groups and the pet store industry.
For the past few weeks, they have redirected their efforts to lobbying Ms Hochul, meeting with her office to make their case as she decides whether to sign or veto the bill, with both sides trading accusations of lying and spreading misinformation.
If Ms. Hochul signs the bill, New York would follow California’s lead, Maryland, Illinois and other states that have passed similar bans intended to curb commercial breeders, sometimes called puppy mills or kitten mills.
Breeders have for years been the source of intense controversy because, according to animal rights advocates, they operate with little oversight and raise dogs in cruel and inhumane conditions, often leading to the sale of sick puppies to consumers.
The bill seeks to close that pipeline by banning the sale of animals in New York’s 80 or so pet stores, ubiquitous for displaying pups that can cost thousands of dollars, and encourages New Yorkers to adopt pets from shelters. People would still be allowed to buy animals directly from breeders, an attempt to let prospective pet owners visit and buy from responsible breeders.
“We know what it looks like when animals don’t get that care, and certainly from the photos and documentation of what these facilities look like, that’s not happening,” said Jennie Lintz, director of the puppy mill initiative. the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “New York remains one of the largest markets for these commercial facilities, so the bill could have an impact not just here, but across the country.”
Pet stores have fiercely rejected the legislation, arguing that the bill put them out of businesslead to the unemployment of hundreds of workers, make it difficult for people to obtain a pet in the state and potentially lead to an underground market for pet sales, arguments that supporters of the bill have dismissed as far-fetched.
One of the industry’s biggest complaints is its claim that animal activists have demonized much of the breeding industry as abusive. He argues that the unsanitary puppy mills that have been the subject of damning investigations are not representative of the entire industry.
“Let’s not pretend there aren’t people out there who are doing this wrong, but they are few and far between,” said Mike Bober, president and CEO of the Pet Advocacy Network, a national pet trade association. “We are deeply offended and frustrated that people willfully and intentionally misrepresent the state of reproduction in the country.”
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat who is running for a full term in November, has not publicly shared her thoughts on the bill and her office said she was still reviewing the legislation.
The more than 2,000 dog breeders in the country are largely regulated and licensed by the federal governmentBut animal rights advocates argue that the minimum standards of care they are supposed to provide are outdated, insufficient and rarely met.
In New York, the state attorney general’s office has filed lawsuits in recent years against a handful of pet stores, including those from albany Y New Yorkaccusing them of misleading consumers and selling puppies that were sick or abused and came from unauthorized breeders.
In 2021, Attorney General Letitia James sued Shake a Paw, which operates two stores on Long Island, for falsifying health certificates, charging customers unexpected veterinary costs and selling at least nine dogs that died of serious illnesses shortly after sell them. the store owners have strenuously denied the allegations
The lawsuits have helped fuel support for a ban, despite an industry belief that banning puppy retail will lead to a cascade of unintended consequences, including more online scams and fewer legal protections for consumers who adopt sick puppies.
While New York is home to about 40 commercial breeders, according to the ASPCA, most of the puppies are sold in the state’s pet stores. are imported from breeders elsewhere, primarily in the Midwest.
Emilio Ortiz, manager of Citipups, a pet store with two locations in Manhattan, said the company carefully sources the hundreds of puppies it sells each year from about 30 different breeders across the country that he said exceed the standards required by the federal government and provided “a great living situation for their dogs.”
Ortiz, who met with state lawmakers and the governor’s office to lobby against the bill, argued that the biggest obstacle to the industry is a “distorted view and public narrative” that all breeders and pet stores are bad. actors. In response, he started making videos that seek to show behind the scenes of how stores treat the pets they sell. Mr. Ortiz has amassed over 300,000 followers on TikTok and videos of him have garnered millions of views.
“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “We’re just small businesses versus some of these big national organizations that raise millions of dollars and have this marketing machine behind them. People usually only hear these horror stories, so I wanted to show people what really happens.”
He added: “We would go completely bankrupt” if Ms. Hochul signed the bill, noting that about 90 percent of the store’s sales came from puppy sales.
Supporters of the bill have argued that stores that sell animals could adapt by switching to selling pet supplies, though the industry contends it would require stores to invest significantly to reconfigure floor plans originally designed to house live animals.
Pet stores could partner with shelters and rescue organizations to host adoption events, though they would not receive any of the fees associated with adoptions. Bober said all but two of the 28 pet stores selling puppies in California closed two years after the ban took effect in 2019, according to data compiled by her trade association.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat and self-described animal lover who introduced the bill in New York, dismissed the industry’s trade concerns and said the ban had a more fundamental goal: to stop treating animals as commodities. , or as “an item on a supermarket shelf.”
“I don’t think we should sanction animal torture as a means of keeping people in business,” said Gianaris, Deputy Majority Leader and owner of a rescue cat, Alley, and a Cavapoo mongrel puppy, Fred. , which he said he bought from a reputable breeder. “I hope it doesn’t take the governor as long as it took the entire Legislature to figure out what to do.”
Although many Republican lawmakers voted for the bill, it didn’t gain significant momentum in Albany until Democrats took full control of the state Capitol four years ago. The legislation passed the state Senate in 2020 but stalled in the Assembly.
Some moderate Democrats in the Assembly opposed the bill and proposed more specific alternatives to regulate the pet trade, while some animal activists loudly accused Carl Heastie, the speaker of the House, of delaying the legislation.
That changed on the last day of this year’s legislative session, when the 150-seat Assembly passed the bill, which was introduced in the House by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan, with just 15 votes against.
“The last bastion of fairness is puppies and kittens,” said Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, an organization that represents animal shelters and rescue organizations, which supports the bill.
The pet store industry has accused shelters and rescue organizations of hypocrisy, arguing that they operate with little regulation in New York, though a second bill on Ms. Hochul’s desk would aim to change that by implementing of uniform standards for veterinary care and rescue accommodation. animals
Ms. Post said banning the retail sale of the animals would ease the strain on New York’s more than 100 shelters and 400 rescue organizations, many of which she said are teeming with dogs, including those people got during the pandemic but may have abandoned. after they were called to their workplaces.
“What happens in a puppy mill is absolutely inhumane,” Post said. “And New York is complicit in animal abuse as long as we allow the sale of ground animals.”