Everyone has done it, including you: You’re walking by a pet shop, and you just have to pop in to see the puppies. With their noses pressed against the cage, they look up at you with those big puppy dog eyes, wagging their tails, silently begging you to take them home.
Cute? Of course. But these furry pooches are currently the source of controversy for pet store owners, breeders and lawmakers.
According to Legis. Jon Cooper and many animal rights organizations, including the ASPCA, pet store puppies are almost always the product of puppy mills—which is why Cooper has proposed legislation that would make the retail sale of puppies in pet stores illegal.
Puppy mills are large-scale commercial dog-breeding operations where dogs suffer horrific conditions. Dogs are kept in filthy cages piled on top of each other for their entire lives. Their food is often mixed with sawdust and has very little nutritional value. Cooper said that a veterinarian at one of his hearings on the bill came in with a large jar that was filled with teeth she had had removed from puppy mill rescue dogs because they had rotted away due to lack of nutrition. Climate control is rare, and many dogs in puppy mills die of heat stroke or freeze to death. Once they can no longer breed, they are killed inhumanely.
Cooper recalls a recent conversation with a woman who was opposed to his bill. “I asked her if she would want her family dogs to be in those conditions and she said, ‘No, of course not, the dogs at puppy mills are not family pets, they’re livestock.’”
She is not the only person who feels this way. The USDA also considered puppy mill dogs as livestock, and though there are federal regulations, the bill states that they are not consistently enforced due to a lack of inspectors.
The offspring of these dogs are then transported to pet stores. The majority of puppy mills are in the Midwest, the South and in portions of Pennsylvania. However, puppy mill puppies still end up in pet stores on Long Island, Cooper says.
Another way to get a purebred puppy is to buy one directly from the breeder.
“A responsible breeder would not sell to a pet store, because they want to make sure that their puppies are finding good homes and obviously if they sell to an intermediary—a pet store—they lose control over who’s going to be buying the puppy.”
In the initial bill, Cooper was going to allow pet stores to sell puppies from local breeders, but has since changed it so that pet stores would not be able to sell any puppies from any breeder.
“That doesn’t make any sense. A responsible breeder, whether it’s in Suffolk County or in Missouri, would not sell to a pet store,” Cooper explains. He also adds that many pet stores use fraudulent documents to trick potential buyers into thinking the dogs have come from breeders on Long Island.
Pet store owners however, disagree. Barbara Maple is the owner of Petite Pets in Huntington. She has been in business since 1983, and has been at the Huntington location for the past 15 years. While she admits that unlicensed breeders often put animals in poor conditions, she has been using the same breeders in Missouri for 15 years, and says that they are USDA, American Kennel Club and state licensed, and veterinarian inspected.
Maple says that not only is what Cooper suggesting illegal because she is licensed by New York State, but he is also making a bill based on generalizations about the state of Missouri.
“I am not going to allow him to stereotype a state; that infuriates me,” she says.
When the Press informs her about Cooper’s amendment including Suffolk County, she adds, “I hope he’s having a good time with this.”
Some breeders who do not sell to pet stores are also uncomfortable with the bill, and Cooper thinks it’s because lobbyists from the puppy mill industry have been telling them it is a “slippery slope,” and that he eventually wants to ban all breeding in the county—which Cooper says is “nonsense.”
“My bill would in no way restrict the ability of responsible breeders to sell to the public,” he says. “They just would not be able to sell to pet stores—but responsible breeders don’t sell to pet stores in the first place, it’s the puppy mills.”
The next public hearing for the bill is set for Wednesday, August 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the legislative building in Hauppauge, and Cooper hopes to bring it to the floor Tuesday, August 16.
“The problem is it’s completely invisible. The public sees these cute puppies being sold in a pet store and they don’t know the horrors of the conditions,” Cooper said. “If the public knew that these cute puppies that they see in a pet store were being bred in these inhuman conditions, they would not buy these puppies.”