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The proposed town code regulating the operation of pet stores that sell dogs and cats is on hold.

Councilman Ken Rothwell, who proposed the code changes during last week’s work session, told RiverheadLOCAL last Thursday after the work session the town board would vote to set a public hearing for the code changes at Tuesday’s town board meeting. But the resolution didn’t make it onto the meeting agenda.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar on Monday morning sent an email to the town board asking the board to “reconsider” moving Rothwell’s bill forward. She forwarded to the board (as well as the town clerk and the deputy supervisor) an email sent moments earlier by a public relations agency for a pet dealers advocacy group, along with a memorandum in opposition to the bill under consideration in Riverhead.

”I think we should all reconsider to not move this forward and become more informed of the long-range ramifications of his legislation,” Aguiar wrote in the email, which, together with the opposition memo, was obtained by RiverheadLOCAL. “I am available to discuss this matter further,” she wrote.

The memo, dated “August 2021” and addressed to the town board, is on the letterhead of People United to Protect Pet Integrity, known by the acronym “P.U.P.P.I.,” a New York-based organization backed by pet dealers opposed to restrictions on the sales of dogs bred at so-called puppy mills. The email came from Jenny Kate Schlegal of Millennial Strategies. It was listed on the Aug. 3 town board meeting agenda under correspondence as an item received in “opposition to proposed legislation to ban pet store operations,” but the agenda listed only Shlegal’s name and did not mention P.U.P.P.I or the memorandum.

When asked about her request not to move Rothwell’s bill forward, Aguiar said it was the councilman’s idea. In an email to RiverheadLOCAL Thursday evening, Aguiar wrote:

“Councilman Rothwell discussed the legislation further with me and indicated he wanted to have an additional work session regarding the prospective Legislation, before moving forward. He further indicated he was desirous to review a State Legislation pending in Albany and obtain further legal counsel from the attorney’s office. I respected his approach. Thereafter, I received an email opposing the Legislation and forwarded it to the entire board and the Clerk, in an effort to keep the entire board apprise [as written].” 

In an interview Friday, Rothwell give a different explanation. He said the resolution scheduling the public hearing was not on the Aug. 3 agenda because council members Frank Beyrodt and Tim Hubbard were absent for the July 29 work session.

Rothwell’s bill would ban the sale by pet shops of dogs and cats other than animals sourced from animal shelters, animal control agencies, humane societies or nonprofit rescue groups registered with the state. It would require the stores to provide a certificate of origin for all animals offered for sale showing they came from one of those sources. The legislation would not restrict the individual purchases from licensed breeders, or affect the adoption of pets from shelters or rescue groups.

The proposed 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.

Rothwell said he remains committed to passing the legislation, which he said has garnered support from residents who’ve had bad experiences with dogs bred at puppy mills. He said he has received little correspondence opposing it.

The councilman said the legislation is not meant to target specific pet shops in Riverhead. “If you ask me, whether it’s one business or 10 businesses, animal abuse is animal abuse and it needs to stop immediately — and puppy mills are animal abuse,” Rothwell said. In addition, dogs bred in puppy mills are often inbred and have numerous health problems, he said.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, a puppy mill is “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.

The law would affect two shops within the Town of Riverhead, according to the website Puppy Mill Free Long Island, a group that compiles pet shops they say for sell dogs from puppy mills and organizes protests against them. The shops are The Puppy Experience at 487 Main Road in Aquebogue and the Sportsman Kennel at 75 Schultz Road in Manorville.

The opposition memo from P.U.P.P.I argues that the sale of dogs by pet shops is the “one completely transparent and regulated way to purchase dogs available to families.” They argue that Riverhead’s legislation is only meant to shut down small businesses. 

P.U.P.P.I. further argues that inspections and regulations set by the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide “protections for both the animals and the consumer.”

Read the P.U.P.P.I. below: P.U.P.P.I-memo

Opponents of puppy mills, however, argue USDA inspection and regulations are not enough to ensure the humane treatment of animals at these facilities.

One such organization is Harley’s Dream, a Colorado-based group opposed to puppy mills. The organization also sent the town board a memo in support of the law, along with fact sheets from various animal rights organizations which outline . The memo from Harley’s Dream, dated July 30, was not listed among correspondence on the Aug. 3 town board agenda.

“Responsible breeders do NOT sell their puppies to pet stores,” the letter reads. “This pet store ordinance would not impact them.”

Harley’s Dream said pet stores would not be forced out of business, contrary to comments from organizations like P.U.P.P.I. They make most of their profits from selling pet supplies and accessories. Rothwell expressed the same idea in a call with RiverheadLOCAL. 

Read the Harley’s Dream letter below: Harleys-Dream-letter

Suffolk County enacted legislation in 2014 that prohibits pet stores or dealers from selling pets originating from breeders that have received violations from recent inspections conducted by the USDA. The county law prohibits the sale of puppies under 8 weeks old, is in good health and is weaned from its mother. It prohibits the sale of animals sourced from any dealer that has been issued certain violations by the USDA within the past two years. It requires pet dealers to provide information on the background of an animal upon request by a consumer, including the pet’s origin, USDA records, and other supplemental documentation.

A bill currently pending in the N.Y. State Legislature would completely ban 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. State Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is one of the many co-sponsors of the bill.

Denise Civiletti contributed to this story.

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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. Email: [email protected]