The proposed code would allow pet stores in Riverhead Town to sell only dogs and cats obtained from animal shelters and nonprofit rescue groups. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Pet stores in Riverhead Town will be prohibited from selling dogs and cats bred by commercial breeders under a bill proposed by Councilman Ken Rothwell.

Stores offering dogs and cats for sale will be required to prove the animals came from animal shelters, animal control agencies, humane societies or nonprofit rescue groups registered with the state.

The new law would not affect adoption procedures at local animal shelters, nor would it prevent individuals from dealing directly with breeders.

Read the draft of the new code provisions here.

“This is to promote animal welfare and encourage the best practices of breeding and purchasing dogs and cats,” Rothwell said during the Town Board work session today.

The law targets doing business with a “puppy mill,” which the Humane Society of the United States describes as “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers.” Female dogs at mills are overbred, and often killed or abandoned after they are unable to breed, the society says. Puppies who come from mills often suffer with health issues after they’re bought.

There are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in operation in the United States; approximately 500,000 dogs are kept solely for breeding purposes in the mills and 2.6 million milled puppies are sold each year, according to the Humane Society.

Suffolk County in 20 enacted a law prohibiting the sale of pets originating from breeders who have received violations in recent inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The county law also requires stores to provide a customer, upon request, with information on a pet’s background, including its origin.

“The state has similar legislation before them they have not been able to pass yet,” Rothwell said. “And so, I think we don’t wait on the state, we lead by example.”

The New York State Legislature is also trying to act against puppy mills by proposing a complete ban on the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits by retail pet shops. The bill passed with a supermajority in the State Senate in May, but has not yet been acted on by the Assembly, where it remains in committee. East End State Senator Anthony Palumbo was one of the many co-sponsors of the bill.

The proposed town code provides fines from a $250 minimum for the first violation to a $2,500 maximum for a third and subsequent violation, as well as imprisonment of up to 30 days.

Pet store operators would have up to 90 days to comply with the new code after its effective date.

Board members today agreed to move forward with a public hearing on the proposed code change. Rothwell said he expects a vote on Tuesday to schedule the hearing next month.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.