Hundreds of postcards, depicting visceral images of malnourished golden retriever puppies living in squalid conditions, flood the governor’s office in New York. A massive email campaign has been launched by national animal rights groups.
However, the pet supply industry and its lobbyists have also mobilized. Zoom meetings have been held with the governor’s staff; a pet store employee has created an independent campaign of videos featuring well-treated puppies that have gone viral on TikTok.
Of the hundreds of bills that Head of Government Kathy Hochul must decide whether to sign before the end of the year, few seem to carry more emotional weight than the law affecting the well-being of a constituency that can’t even vote: puppies.
After years of debate, New York state lawmakers passed a bill in June with rare bipartisan support that would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in New York pet stores, sparking a fierce clash between animal welfare groups and the pet supply industry. .
In recent weeks, they have shifted their efforts to lobbying Ms. Hochul, meeting with her office to argue their case as she decides whether to sign or veto the bill, with both sides raising charges of lying and spreading falsehoods. information.
If Ms. Hochul signs the bill, New York would follow the lead of California, Maryland, Illinois and other states that have passed similar bans designed to curb commercial breeders, sometimes called puppy mills or kitten factories.
The breeding facilities have been the source of intense controversy for years because, according to animal rights advocates, they operate with little supervision 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 to the shop windows of puppies that can go for thousands of dollars — and encouraging New Yorkers to take pets from shelters instead. to adopt. People should still be allowed to purchase the animals directly from breeders, in an effort to allow prospective pet owners to visit and purchase responsible breeders.
“We know what it looks like when animals don’t get that care and certainly, based on photos and documentation of what these facilities look like, that’s not happening,” said Jennie Lintz, the director of the puppy mill initiative at the American Society for 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 vehemently opposed the legislation, arguing that the bill would bankrupt them, lead to the unemployment of hundreds of workers, make it harder for people to get a pet in the state, and potentially lead to to an underground pet sales market – arguments that supporters of the bill have dismissed as exaggerated.
One of the industry’s biggest grievances is the claim that animal activists have labeled most of the breeding industry as abusive. It argues that the unsanitary puppy factories that have been the target of damning investigations are not representative of the entire industry.
“Let’s not pretend there aren’t people doing this the wrong way, but there are very few,” said Mike Bober, the president and chief executive of the Pet Advocacy Network, a national pet trade association. “We are deeply offended and frustrated that people are voluntarily and deliberately misrepresenting the state of breeding in the country.”
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat who will run for a full term in November, has not publicly shared her views on the bill and her office said it was still reviewing the legislation.
The country’s more than 2,000 dog breeders are largely regulated and licensed by the federal government, but animal rights advocates argue that the minimum standards of care they should provide are outdated, inadequate and rarely enforced.
In New York, the attorney general’s office in recent years has filed lawsuits against a handful of pet stores, including those in Albany and New York City, accusing them of misleading consumers and selling puppies that had been sick or abused and came from unauthorized breeders.
In 2021, Attorney General Letitia sued James Shake a Paw, which has two stores on Long Island, for checking health certificates, burdening customers with unforeseen veterinary costs and selling at least nine dogs that died of serious illnesses. shortly after they were sold. The merchants have vehemently denied the allegations.
The lawsuits have contributed to support for a ban, despite the industry’s belief that banning the sale of puppies at retail will lead to a cascade of unintended consequences, including more online scams and less legal protections for consumers buying sick puppies. to adopt.
While New York is home to about 40 commercial breeders, the majority of puppies sold in state pet stores are imported from breeders elsewhere, mostly the Midwest, according to the ASPCA.
Emilio Ortiz, a manager at Citipups, a pet store with two Manhattan locations, said the company carefully sourced the hundreds of puppies it sells each year from about 30 different breeders across the country that it believes exceeded federally mandated standards and ” a great living situation for their dogs.”
Mr. Ortiz, who has met with state lawmakers and the governor’s office to lobby against the bill, argued that the industry’s biggest obstacle is a “distorted image and public narrative” that all breeders and pet stores are bad actors. In response, he started making videos that aim to show a behind-the-scenes look at how the stores handle the pets they sell. mr. Ortiz has amassed over 300,000 followers on TikTok and his videos have been viewed millions of times.
“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “We’re just small businesses versus some of these big national organizations that are raising millions of dollars and have this marketing machine behind them. Usually people only hear about these horror stories, so I wanted to show people what’s really going on.”
He added: “We would be completely out of business” 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 selling animals could adapt by switching to selling pet supplies, though the industry argues that stores will need to invest significantly to repurpose floor plans originally designed to house live animals. to target.
Pet stores would be allowed to partner with shelters and rescue organizations to host adoption events, although they would not receive any of the fees associated with the adoptions. Mr Bober said all but two of 28 pet stores that sold puppies in California went bankrupt two years after the ban went into effect in 2019, according to data collected by his industry association.
State senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat and self-proclaimed animal lover who introduced the bill in New York, brushed aside the industry’s business concerns and said the ban had a more fundamental objective: to stop treating animals as commodities, or as commodities. “an item on a supermarket shelf.”
“I don’t think we should sanction animal torture as a means of keeping people employed,” said Mr Gianaris, the deputy majority leader and owner of a rescue cat, Alley, and a mixed-breed Cavapoo puppy, Fred. , which he claims to have bought from a reputable breeder. “I hope the governor doesn’t take as long as the entire legislature to figure out the right thing to do.”
While many Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, it didn’t get serious attention in Albany until the 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, proposing more targeted alternatives to regulate the pet trade, while some animal activists loudly accused Carl Heastie, the speaker of the chamber, of holding back the legislation.
That changed on the last day of this year’s Legislative Assembly, when the 150-seat Assembly passed the bill, introduced in the House by Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal, with just 15 votes against.
“The last bastion of impartiality is puppies and kittens,” said Libby Post, the executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, an organization representing animal shelters and rescue organizations that supports the bill.
The pet industry has accused shelters and rescue organizations of hypocrisy, arguing that they operate with few regulations in New York, though a second bill on Ms. Hochul’s desk would seek to change that by implementing uniform standards for veterinary care and housing. rescue workers animals.
Ms Post said a ban on the retail sale of the animals would ease the pressure on New York’s more than 100 shelters and 400 rescue organizations, many of which she says are overcrowded with dogs, including those given to humans during the pandemic but may be after being called back to their workplace.
“What happens in a puppy factory is absolutely inhumane,” Ms Post said. “And New York is complicit in animal cruelty as long as we allow the sale of ground animals.”