Update May 26, 2012: Go here for information about Assembly member Amy Paulin’s bill, A. 697-C that is set for a vote in the Assembly. The bill would increase standards of care for dogs and cats held by pet dealers. The Senate version is S. 7268 and is sponsored by Sen. Greg Ball.
Original report April 17, 2011: New York City is the #2 market in the U.S. for puppy mill dogs.
According to Puppy Mill Awareness, that is not likely to change in view of Good Morning America’s recent segment on the desirability of so-called "designer" dogs that are sold in New York City.
New York state’s weak regulation of commercial dog breeders, pet dealers, is likely a big reason why NYC holds such a dubious distinction.
Under New York law a "pet dealer" is basically a commercial dog or cat breeder: "any person … who engages in the sale or offering for sale of more than nine animals per year for profit to the public. Such definition shall include breeders who sell or offer to sell animals; provided that a breeder who sells or offers to sell directly to the consumer fewer than twenty-five animals per year that are born and raised on the … breeder’s residential premises shall not be considered a pet dealer as a result of … selling or offering to sell such animals". Humane societies are excluded. NY CLS Agr & M § 400
The problem of determining who is a "pet dealer"
The state department of agriculture and markets does not regulate the New York commercial dog breeders already licensed by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act. USDA licensed breeders are basically those that sell to pet stores or through brokers or wholesalers. For more information….
Regardless, there are still hundreds of state licensed pet dealers in New York. And, it is not easy for inspectors to identify pet dealers. As one inspector speaking on condition of anonymity explains, "How do you know if someone sells more than nine animals each year for profit? How do you know if a breeder is selling more than 25 animals that are born and raised in his residence?"
Inspectors find they spend hours and hours combing through ads, for example, to try to determine how many animals a particular breeder is selling each year. That does not leave a lot of resources for inspections and enforcement. Particularly when now because of budget cuts, there are far fewer personnel available for inspections, just a handful.
It is not known how many commercial breeders are not licensed simply because inspectors cannot find them or prove their annual sales. It would make sense to change the legal definition of "pet dealer" to something more enforceable.
Under that bill a pet dealer would be a breeder who (a) sells or offers for sale nine or more dogs or cats born or raised on premises other than the breeder’s residence, (b) maintains a total of 6 sexually intact female dogs or cats six months of age or older and who sells or offers for sale any of the offspring; or (c) sells or offers for sale to the public 10 or more dogs or cats in a calendar year.
With this definition, inspectors could at least identify breeders with 6 or more dogs held for breeding and who sell the offspring. The proposed definition would still not include those breeders now exempt because they have USDA licenses. But still an improvement.
A.B. 78 is sponsored by Assembly woman Amy Paulin, and S.B. 3475 is sponsored by state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer. The bill is currently pending in the agriculture committees of the assembly and the state senate.
New York’s Pet Dealer Law has Weak Penalties and Limited Means of Enforcement
Assembly woman Paulin is also addressing the weak penalties under the current pet dealer law. There are no criminal penalties currently. A.B. 286 /S.B. 3478 would raise the maximum civil penalty from $1,000 to $2,500, though this is still not very much of a deterrent, the retail cost of one or two dogs. The bill would clarify that if a pet dealer license is denied, suspended, or revoked, the department would still have authority to levy civil penalties.
A.B. 286 has been reported out of the agriculture committee and assigned to codes for consideration. Sen. Oppenheimer is also the sponsor of the senate version, S.B. 3478 which remains pending in the senate agriculture committee.
Under A.B. 77/S.B. 3479 would "mandate" that the department hold a hearing to suspend or revoke a pet dealer’s license if the pet dealer "fails either three consecutive inspections" or "three inspections in a three year period". The department could act sooner or take other action as well.
Under the current law, there is no requirement that the department ever act to suspend or revoke a breeder’s license. The bill would still allow a long period – 3 inspections could mean 3 years – before action is taken.
This bill, also offered by AM Paulin, has been reported out of the agriculture committee and is pending in codes. Sen. Oppenheimer is the sponsor of S.B. 3479 which remains before the senate agriculture committee.
Other than weak, limited civil fines and the option of holding a hearing to suspend or revoke a license, the department has no other means of enforcing the laws regulating pet dealers. Not only are there no criminal penalties or even strong civil fines, inspectors cannot order a breeder found in violation, however serious, to cease and desist operations immediately pending a hearing.
Indeed, it is not clear the inspectors can pursue a cease and desist order at all, or an injunction, to stop the breeder. They cannot even seize animals held in unhealthy, neglected, dangerous or abusive conditions. The inspectors can only report the animal cruelty and neglect to local authorities or humane agents; otherwise the inspectors may simply issue a citation if there is a violation of the pet dealer law and recommend a hearing for suspension or revocation of the pet dealer’s license.
New York’s Pet Dealer Laws have Low Standards of Care for Animals
Assembly woman Paulin has also targeted for improvement the low standards of care allowed under state law.
Under A.B. 697 pet dealers would be required to take steps to prevent the spread of disease or illness by designating an isolation area for sick animals and also an attending veterinarian who would provide a "written program of veterinary care" and make "regularly scheduled visits". In observing animals each day, pet dealers would be required also to assess their health and well-being. The bill would require the pet dealers to have enough staff including on holidays and during emergencies who are trained and in communication with the veterinarian and can take care of animals who are immobilized, for example, or under veterinary care including pre-procedural or post-procedural care.
Animals with contagious diseases could not be sold without notice to the purchaser.
The bill would also require pet dealers to "develop, maintain, document and implement an appropriate [exercise] plan" that is approved by the attending veterinarian and the department. The plan must provide the animals with "positive physical contact with humans…[and] play". Exercise, let alone socialization, is currently not required at all under New York law for animals held by pet dealers. NY CLS Agr & M § 401
S.B. 3477 is a similar senate version introduced by Sen. Oppenheimer. The bill is pending in the senate consumer protection committee.
It would be more enforceable to require pet dealers to provide dogs with unfettered access to a place large enough for dogs to run and play. At least inspectors could see first hand that the dogs can get the exercise they need.
A.B. 75 would improve recordkeeping requirements for pet dealers at least as to dog pet dealers, and most importantly, make those records including veterinary records more accessible to the department and also breed registries. Pet dealers would be required to be "in possession of" veterinary records for the animal at the time of sale including the veterinary examination required prior to sale.
Pet dealers would be required to provide releases to the veterinarian to allow the department to have access to the records. Pet dealers would also be required to allow breed registries access to their records for their animals.
The pet dealer’s refusal to make records available would be a violation subject to a civil civil fine.
Licensing changes under consideration
Under this bill pet dealers also could not obtain animals from dealers who are not licensed but are supposed to be under USDA regulations.
License fees would be increased based on the pet dealer’s gross sales for the preceding year. Those with gross sales of $50,000 or more would be charged $300 for a license. Not that much to ask and probably not nearly enough to fund adequate inspections.
The bill would also impose a civil penalty on any pet dealer that fails to "conspicuously post" the license.
A.B. 75 is pending before the assembly agriculture committee.
S.B. 3476, introduced by Sen. Oppenheimer, is the senate version and is pending in the agriculture committee.
Allowing NYC to Regulate its Pet Dealers
A.B. 1731 introduced by AM Linda Rosenthal would allow municipalities with populations of 1 million or more (New York City) to adopt their own regulations for pet dealers as long as they are no weaker than the state law.
S.B. 1262 is the Senate version introduced by Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. Both bills are pending in their respective agriculture committees.
Surcharge on pet sales
Other bills pending in the New York legislature to target pet dealers – A.B. 3506 introduced by AM Deborah J. Glick, would impose a 12% surcharge on pet dealers to fund animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitators in the state.
After all, up to one third of animals that end up in shelters are from breeders.
S.B. 2395 is the senate version sponsored by state Sen. Jose Serrano. Both A.B. 3506 and S.B. 2395 are pending in the agriculture committees.