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The Riverhead Town Board will move forward with the local law to ban the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores.

Town board members agreed Thursday to set a vote at the town board meeting next Tuesday that, if passed, schedules a Sept. 8 public hearing on the code change. Councilman Ken Rothwell, who brought the legislation forward, said the text remains unchanged from its introduction during a work session on July 29.

The announcement came after Supervisor Yvette Aguiar sent an email to the board on Monday, Aug. 2, asking members to “reconsider” moving the legislation forward. She attached a memo opposing the legislation from an advocacy group backed by pet dealers called People United to Protect Pet Integrity, known by the acronym “P.U.P.P.I.” Rothwell had said the board would vote at its Aug. 3 meeting to schedule the public hearing, but it was never put on the meeting agenda. (See prior coverage)

The legislation requires that stores provide a certificate of origin for dogs and cats showing that they are sourced from animal shelters, animal control agencies, humane societies or nonprofit rescue groups registered with the state. The legislation would not restrict the individual purchases from licensed breeders, or affect the adoption of pets from shelters or rescue groups.

Aguiar told RiverheadLOCAL the resolution was not put on the agenda at Rothwell’s request because he wanted to review the legislation with the town attorney’s office and review pending legislation in the state legislature. 

In a guest column on RiverheadLOCAL Wednesday, Aguiar clarified her stance on puppy mills in response to comments on Facebook that she characterized as a political attack. 

Rothwell said he was committed to passing the legislation, but that he wanted to hold an additional work session for council members Frank Beyrodt and Tim Hubbard, who were absent for the July 29 work session. Hubbard was not present at the work session Thursday due to an injury.

Beyrodt said Thursday that he likes the legislation. “I think these are really important steps and I definitely would move forward with the public hearing on it,” he said.

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

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.

The legislation targets puppy mills, which are “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers,” according to the Humane Society of the United States. 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 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 and 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 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.

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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]