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Proposed Suffolk bill to regulate pet dealers set for March 4 hearing

Denise Civiletti
Riverhead Local

The measure, cosponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman and Legis. William Spencer (D-Huntington) takes advantage of the opportunity opened up by a new state law sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle that allows municipalities to regulate pet dealers.

“New York State’s 'pet dealer' law wasn’t strong enough to end the reign of unregulated puppy mills," LaValle said in a press release last month announcing the bill's signing by the governor. The new law will "enable local governments to restrict these cruel practices,” LaValle said.

Scneiderman said the proposed county law is not intended to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs or put pet stores out of business.

"It's about the ethical treatment of animals," Schneiderman said. "It's a frameword of some common sense rules designed to protect animals."

Some of the law's restrictions "might make it a little harder to sell a puppy mill dog," Schneiderman acknowledged. And its provisions require disclosure of where the animal was bred, as well as the posting of the breeder's latest USDA inspection report.

"People will know if it's a puppy mill dog," he said. "My aim is to provide consumer with enough information to make an informed decision before they purchase the animal."

In addition to the disclosure requirements, the bill would prohibit an animal being offered for sale — or trade or give-away — at younger than 14 weeks of age. The dog or cat must also have been already weaned from its mother and it must be in good health, under the current provisions of the bill.

The bill also sets in place requirements for the cages or other enclosures in which animals are kept by pet dealers. The enclosure must be large enough for the animal to lie, stretch, walk and engage in natural movements. The bill also currently says each enclosure can contain no more than one animal, but Schneiderman says that will likely change.

"Puppies, especially if they are from the same litter, like to be with other puppies," he said.

The legislator said he's interested in hearing comments on the draft and expects to recess the hearing and make changes to the bill reflecting some of what's said at the hearing.

He has already gotten some feedback from animal rights advocates, Schneiderman said. They would like to see the minimum age raised to 24 weeks. They also advocate requiring all animals be spayed or neutered, which Schneiderman says he has mixed feelings about.

"As a purchaser, if I want to buy a pedigree pet that can be bred, it should be my right to do that," Schneiderman said. "There are reasons why people might not want a neutered dog," he noted, such as dogs intended as guard dogs. "You might not want the dog to be docile," he said. Cats might require a different rule because of the large number of strays, according to Schneiderman, who said he was still undecided on the spay/neuter issue.

"This is a first public hearing. The bill is likely to change as I get input from various stakeholders, including pet dealers," Schneiderman said.