New York May Ban Sale of Dogs, Cats, Rabbits at Retail Pet Shops in 2021

Puppy mills fueled by high demand for young canines is the "most pronounced," one advocate said, but there are other mills catering to those seeking designer cat breeds or families seeking bunnies as gifts for Easter

Dogs in cage
Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

What to Know

  • New York may ban retail pet shops from selling dogs, cats or rabbits as soon as 2021
  • One advocate said puppy mills present the "most pronounced" issue, but there are mills that cater to those seeking designer cat breeds or families looking for bunnies as gifts for the Easter holiday
  • New Yorkers could still buy cats, dogs and rabbits directly from breeders

New York could ban retail pet shops from selling dogs, cats or rabbits as soon as mid-2021 under a Democratic state senator's bill.

The state would join Maryland and California and hundreds of municipalities nationwide that have taken a stand to outlaw sales of those pets, Deputy Senate Leader Mike Gianaris said Monday.

Supporters including The Humane Society of the United States and the New York State Animal Protection Federation say the vast majority of New York pet stores already don't sell cats, dogs or rabbits. But Libby Post, the executive director of the federation, says the proposal is an "opportunity for pet stores to rebrand themselves as compassionate businesses that put puppies over profits."

Post said the issue of puppy mills fueled by high demand for young canines is the "most pronounced." But she said there are also mills that cater to owners seeking designer cat breeds and families seeking bunnies for the Easter holiday.

The legislation would impact an estimated 80 pet retail stores largely located in New York City and Long Island that have registered with the state.

New Yorkers could still buy cats, dogs and rabbits directly from breeders. Pet stores could face penalties for violating the law, which also allows shops to work with animal shelters or rescue groups to offer animals for adoption. The bill would become effective a year after it's signed into law.

Animal welfare groups argue that importation certificates show New York pet stores too often bring in puppies from states in the Midwest with high numbers of commercial pet facilities. Supporters say the federal government is failing to sufficiently investigate a system in which pet stores can turn to regulated dog brokers who buy puppies from breeders and resell them to retailers.

A spokesman for New York's agriculture department says licensed pet dealers that move animals across state lines must document that a veterinarian observed the pets and that they don't appear to have a disease.

"Buyers are also entitled to receive information about where their pets came from and dealers are required to provide that information at the time of sale," said spokeswoman Kirstan Conley.

Over 2,000 dogs are for sale in pet shops in New York at any time, according to advocacy group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets Executive Director Edita Birnkrant. "By passing this legislation we can shut down the puppy mill pipeline and ensure that animals from shelters are adopted at New York shops instead of enriching cruel breeders," Birnkrant said.

Animal welfare activists argued Monday that pet stores make most of their money from selling pet supplies anyways.

But Pet Industry Advisory Council President and CEO Mike Bober said New York's bill would threaten locally owned pet stores while doing nothing to address irresponsible breeders. Bober, whose group represents the nation's pet industry, said it's more important to strengthen and enforce federal standards for pet providers.

"These protections, along with the consumer warranties that pet stores are required by law to offer, are not mandatory for any other animal source," Bober said.

The fate of New York's bill is unclear. It so far has over a dozen Senate co-sponsors and at least one co-sponsor in the Assembly.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his office is interested in any proposal that would better protect pets. The governor last year signed into law the nation's first ban on declawing cats.

"We'll review this legislation in consultation with the state's top kibble and chew toy advocate, Captain," said senior advisor Richard Azzopardi, referring to Democrat Cuomo's 2-year-old gray and white Northern Inuit dog.

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