Hundreds of postcards, with visceral images of malnourished golden retriever puppies living in filthy conditions, are flooding the New York governor’s office. A huge email campaign has been launched by national animal rights groups.
However, the pet industry and its lobbyists have also mobilized. Zoom meetings were held with the governor’s staff; a pet store employee created an independent campaign of videos featuring well-treated puppies that went viral on TikTok.
Of the hundreds of bills Governor Kathy Hochul must decide whether or not to sign before the end of the year, few seem to carry more emotional weight than one that affects 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. , resulting in a heated clash between animal welfare groups and the pet industry.
In recent weeks, they have redirected their efforts to lobbying Ms. Hochul, meeting with her office to plead their case as she decides whether to sign or veto the bill, with both sides trading accusations of lying and spreading false 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 meant to curb commercial breeders, sometimes called puppy mills or kitten factories.
The breeding facilities have for years been the source of intense controversy because, according to animal rights activists, they operate with little supervision and raise dogs in cruel and inhumane conditions, often leading to the sale of puppies. sick to consumers.
The bill aims to close that pipeline by banning the sale of animals at New York’s roughly 80 pet stores — ubiquitous for puppy displays that can cost thousands of dollars — and encouraging New Yorkers to adopt pets from company in shelters. People would still be allowed to buy animals directly from breeders, an attempt to allow future pet owners to visit and buy from responsible breeders.
“We know what it looks like when animals don’t receive that care and certainly, from photos and documentation of what these facilities look like, it doesn’t happen,” said Jennie Lintz, director of the initiative. from the puppy mill to 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 pushed back against the legislation, arguing that the bill would put them out of business, drive hundreds of workers out of work, make it harder for people to get a pet in the state and potentially lead to a market underground pet sales – arguments that the bill’s supporters have dismissed as exaggerated.
One of the industry’s biggest grievances is its claim that animal activists have demonized most of the animal husbandry 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 doing the wrong thing, but they are rare,” 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 farming in the country.”
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat running for a full term in November, has not publicly shared her thoughts on the bill and her office said it was still reviewing the legislation.
The country’s more than 2,000 dog breeders are largely federally regulated and licensed, but animal rights advocates say the minimum standards of care they are supposed to provide are outdated, insufficient and rarely enforced.
In New York, the state attorney general’s office has filed lawsuits in recent years against a handful of pet stores, including those in Albany and New York, accusing them of misleading consumers and selling sick puppies. or abused and from unauthorized breeders.
In 2021, Attorney General Letitia James sued Shake a Paw, which operates two stores on Long Island, for issuing health certificates, charging customers unexpected veterinary fees and selling at least nine dogs who died of serious illnesses shortly time after their sale. The store owners have vehemently denied the allegations.
The lawsuits have helped fuel support for a ban, despite the industry’s 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, the majority of puppies sold in pet stores in the state are imported from breeders elsewhere, mostly from 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 who he says , exceeded federal standards and provided “an excellent living situation for their dogs.
Mr. Ortiz, who met with state lawmakers and the governor’s office to lobby against the bill, argued that the biggest hurdle for the industry is a “distorted view and public narrative” according to which all breeders and pet stores are bad actors. In response, he began creating videos that seek to show a behind-the-scenes look at how stores treat the pets they sell. Mr. Ortiz has amassed more than 300,000 followers on TikTok and his videos have garnered millions of views.
“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “We’re just small companies compared to some of these big national organizations that raise 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 bankrupt’ if Ms Hochul signed the invoice, noting that around 90% of the store’s sales came from the sale of puppies.
Proponents of the bill have argued stores that sell pets could adapt by switching to selling pet supplies, although the industry says this would require stores to invest heavily to reconfigure plans. floors originally designed to house live animals.
Pet stores would be allowed to partner with shelters and rescue organizations to hold adoption events, although they would not receive any fees associated with adoptions. Bober said all but two of the 28 pet stores that sold puppies in California closed two years after the ban took effect in 2019, according to data compiled by his trade association.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a self-described animal-lover Democrat who introduced the bill in New York, brushed off the industry’s trade concerns, saying the ban had a more fundamental purpose. : stop treating animals like commodities or like “an item on a supermarket shelf.
“I don’t think we should sanction animal torture as a way to keep people in business,” said Mr. Gianaris, Deputy Majority Leader and owner of a rescue cat, Alley, and a puppy. of mixed breed Cavapoo, 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 the right thing to do.”
Although many Republican lawmakers voted for the bill, it did not gain traction 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 House Democrats opposed the bill and offered more targeted alternatives to regulating the pet trade, while some animal activists loudly accused House Speaker Carl Heastie of delay 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 lower house by Congresswoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, with just 15 vote against.
“The last bastion of fairness is puppies and kittens,” said Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Welfare Federation, an organization representing animal shelters and organizations. Relief, who support the bill.
The pet industry has accused shelters and rescue organizations of hypocrisy, arguing they operate with few regulations in New York, although a second bill on Ms Hochul’s desk would seek to change that by implementing uniform standards for veterinary care and emergency accommodation. animals.
Ms Post said banning pet retail would ease pressure on more than 100 shelters and 400 rescue organizations in New York City, many of which she says are teeming with dogs, including those people have obtained during the pandemic but may have given up after being called back to work.
“What happens in a puppy mill is absolutely inhumane,” Ms Post said. “And New York is complicit in animal abuse as long as we allow the sale of crushed animals.”