Carol Sclafani holds up an illustration showing the legal size for cages, as per the USDA standards: 6 inches taller and 6 inches longer than the dog confined to it. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A proposed code amendment to ban pet stores from selling commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in Riverhead was aired at an emotionally charged public meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Proponents of the proposal, brought forward by Councilman Ken Rothwell, described conditions at commercial breeding facilities as “horrific” and “inhumane” and advocated the proposed ban as a means of making their continued operation more difficult.

Opponents of the proposal said it unfairly targets pet stores which are already adequately regulated by local, state and federal authorities and, if enacted, would put local pet stores out of business.

Carol Sclafani of Wading River, a veterinary technician, animal advocate and supporter of the proposed code amendment told the board it will help “sever the puppy mill pipeline,” which she described to the board.

“First the puppy is born at a breeding facility. Then it’s taken from the mother, usually even before it’s weaned, and it’s sold to a broker for $50 or $100. They’re stuffed into crates — and yes, they are stuffed into crates, as many as they could fit into a crate — and trucked for days sometimes to other states. And that’s when they are delivered to the pet store. And then the whole process is repeated again. That’s the puppy mill pipeline,” Sclafani said.

Puppies bred in puppy mills are “frequently physically and emotionally damaged,” and the dogs who are bred are “forced to have litter after litter until they can’t breed anymore, and they’re discarded, some shot, some abandoned and some left for dead,” she said,

Puppy mills choose profit over animal welfare, Sclafani said, so they typically do not provide appropriate veterinary care.

“Animals may seem healthy at first, but later show signs like congenital eye or hip defects, parasites or even deadly parvovirus. These animals suffer from untreated fractures, chronic skin infections, chronic ear infections, intestinal parasites, you name it,” she told the board. The neglect is also manifested in dogs’ neurotic behavioral patters, such as nonstop spinning in place, she said.

“Some mills hold dozens of dogs and others hold thousands, but regardless of the size, most puppy mills have the same basic features in common: barking dogs crammed together in rows of small crowded cages, stinking air both, ammonia, urine and feces, nowhere for dogs to play or go for a walk, no toys or soft bedding, no human affection or socialization,” Sclafani said. She held up a collage of pictures of puppy mills.

“No responsible breeder will ever, ever sell a dog to a broker or pet store,” Sclafani said.

Sclafani also displayed an illustrated image of a dog in a cage.

“This is a USDA legal standard-size cage,” she said. “USDA? minimal standards. Know what the gage size is? Six inches taller and six inches longer than the dog. Imagine yourself in a cage six inches taller than you and six inches wider than you. You live in that cage. Okay? This is the USDA standards. This is what we’re talking about,” Sclafani said.

Sclafani, who is the Riverhead Town Board coordinator and also teaches veterinary science, urged the board to watch a documentary film called “The Shocking Truth About Puppy Mills.” She said she has her students watch it so they become aware of what these facilities are like.

David Schwartz, attorney for a pet store group called P.U.P.P.I., spoke against the pet store proposal before the town board. Photo: Denise Civiletti

David Schwartz, an attorney representing People United to Protect Pet Integrity, a group of 16 pet stores formed about six years ago, he said, to fight pet dealer legislation the county legislature was considering, said the proposed code change would put Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, a member of the organization, and other member pet stores, out of business.

“This will only serve to shut down small businesses and does not affect the ability for — quote— puppy mills, which there’s no definition for, or bad breeders operate the way they do now. It’s going to leave a vacuum in the market that will allow bad actors to flourish,” Schwartz said.

“Seventy-five percent of profits are from the sales of puppies. So the argument is made that they could sell toys and pet food and all this other stuff, it’s completely untrue. You’re just going to shut down small businesses,” Schwartz said.

He said brick-and-mortar pet stores fill a consumer need, which is why most have been in business for many years. Consumers want to buy dogs from pet stores, he said.

“Pet stores are the only regulated source to purchase pets,” Schwartz told the board. “And they provide protections for both the animal and consumers. They are highly regulated and inspected by state health department and the USDA,” he said.

“Our animals come from USDA licensed and inspected breeders who the members inspect regularly. That’s one of the reasons why you would buy a puppy from a pet store because they know who they’re sourcing the animals from,” Schwartz said. “The prospective parent receives breeder information, including three years of clean inspection reports from the breeder health records, family information for the dog and a comprehensive health warranty providing financial recourse as per the New York State law,” he said.

Banning pet store sales will only increase purchases being made “blindly on the internet,” Schwartz said. He said puppy store owners hear a lot of complaints from people who “got ripped off buying their pets over the internet.”

Keith Lewin, owner of Puppy Experience, said pet breeders and pet stores are heavily regulated and the proposed bill is unnecessary. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Keith Lewin, the owner of Puppy Experience in Aquebogue, said the whole process is already very heavily regulated. His store deals with USDA-regulated breeders that are subject to frequent inspections, he said. Dogs are transported on vehicles that are inspected by the Department of Transportation and New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets inspects pet stores and checks the breeders, Lewin said. Suffolk County Department of Consumer Affairs is also “constantly checking” pet stores, according to Lewin. And if a customer feels that something is not right, he said, they call the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and they inspect the stores too, Lewin said.

Lewin said the town should look into rescue groups, which he said were making a lot of money off rescue animals.

“And you know what? There’s a lot of people out there that have a little baby, a 3-year-old, a 4 -year-old, you know, they just don’t want a pit bull,” Lewin said. “Strange, crazy. They want a cute dog. So yeah, we want to be able to offer people what they want.”

Pam Green, executive director of Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton, thanked the board for addressing the issue. She decried “the misinformation flying around the room” during the hearing.

“To say that a not-for-profit, just rakes in money and takes people’s money, they all have millions of dollars in the bank — I don’t know where he got that from, because it’s not true,” Green said.

“Carol Sclafani, I don’t I don’t know Carol, personally, she’s spot on, on everything she said. These pictures, have a look. That’s where these puppies are coming from. Every pet shop on Long Island is getting their puppies from puppy mills — commercial breeding establishments. And it’s all about money,” Green said.

“Go to a puppy mill. If they let you in… you will see firsthand what we’re talking about,” Green told the board.

“These animals are scarred, physically and emotionally. Imagine being in a cage for 10 years breeding over and over again,” she said. In her 35 years at Kent, Green said, she’s seen animals from puppy mills, either ones that were discarded by the breeders or dogs purchased at pet stores and brought to the shelter by owners who couldn’t handle taking care of an animal with medical problems.

“Someone was asking, where do shelters get their animals. We mostly get them from shelters that will kill them. And they do it every day,” Green said. “Why? Because they’re overwhelmed. They don’t have enough space for all these animals. That’s where we get our animals from — we save their lives,” Green said.

The supervisor left the hearing record open for written comments until Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Comments may be sent to the Riverhead Town Clerk, Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead NY 11901. They may also be submitted by email to Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.