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A ban on the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits by retail pet stores will take effect in 2024 in New York State under a bill signed into law today by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The new law will kill the “Puppy Mill Pipeline” and cut off commercial breeders who prioritize profit over animal welfare from New York consumers, according to animal welfare advocates.

The law takes aim at commercial breeding facilities called “Puppy Mills” that breed pets in conditions animal advocates describe as cruel and inhumane, and lead to health and behavioral issues. New York is currently one of the largest markets for commercial breeding facilities, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Dogs, cats and rabbits across New York deserve loving homes and humane treatment,” Hochul said in a press release. “I’m proud to sign this legislation, which will make meaningful steps to cut down on harsh treatment and protect the welfare of animals across the state.”

Based upon an agreement with the legislature, the law will take effect in 2024 and will also allow pet stores to charge shelters rent to use their space for adoptions, Hochul’s press release said.

Animal rights advocacy groups praised the governor’s decision to sign the bill, which passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature earlier this year, including with the support of East End legislators.

“The passage and signing of the Puppy Mill Pipeline law — which has been a longstanding goal for animal welfare groups across the state — is a historic win for New York’s animals, consumers, and communities,” Matt Bershadker, ASPCA’s president and CEO said in a press release. “By ending the sale of cruelly bred puppy mill dogs in state pet shops, New York is shutting down the pipeline that enables retail sellers and commercial breeders to profit from unconscionable brutality.”

Not everybody is happy about the law’s passage, however. A representative of the New York-based pet dealers trade organization People United to Protect Pet Integrity, or P.U.P.P.I, said the new law will “destroy businesses and thousands of jobs will be lost.”

“The safest way to purchase a dog is in a brick and mortar store,” David Schwartz, a lawyer for P.U.P.P.I, wrote in an email to RiverheadLOCAL. “We will keep fighting for justice over the next two years and we are hopeful that we can save businesses that have been serving the community for decades.”

The Town of Riverhead passed a local law last year banning the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits, requiring that any store offering those pets for sale prove that the animals came from animal shelters, animal control agencies, humane societies or nonprofit rescue groups registered with New York State. The new town law does not affect adoption procedures at local animal shelters, nor prevent individuals from dealing directly with breeders.

“It’s great news. It’s exciting,” said Council Member Ken Rothwell, who spearheaded the local law. “I feel like we worked really hard on a town level to set an example. There were very few towns in the state that even wanted to tackle the subject.”

Rothwell said the law is “personal” to him as an animal lover, and also for the many people who have protested the alleged mistreatment of animals at Riverhead pet stores in the past. He also gave special thanks to Town Board Coordinator Carol Sclafani, a veterinary technician, for researching the topic and helping write the local law passed last year.

“It’s a win for everybody throughout the state, and now I hope that other surrounding states will follow,” Rothwell said, naming Pennsylvania, which he said is a location of many puppy mills that supply New York pet stores.

Enforcement of Riverhead’s local law was halted by a court order soon after it was passed. The owners of two pet stores in Riverhead Town, The Puppy Experience in Aquebogue and Sportsman’s Kennel in Manorville, quickly filed lawsuits challenging the town law and have been seeking to permanently enjoin its enforcement. P.U.P.P.I. joined the suit brought by the owners of The Puppy Experience.

The lawsuits claim the town violated state Agriculture and Markets Law by “essentially banning all sales of dogs or cats raised and maintained in a healthy and safe manner” through local regulation.

Both pet dealers who sued the town argue that they source pets only from dealers who breed and raise them in a healthy and safe manner and deny dealing with disreputable “puppy mill” breeders. The owner of Sportsman’s Kennels, which breeds on site, denies violating state or federal rules and regulations.

Both lawsuits remain pending. Since the pet stores’ lawsuits are grounded in the argument of previous state law preempting the Riverhead’s local law, the fate of those lawsuits is in question.

Rothwell said he hopes the lawsuits challenging the town’s law are dismissed, and Riverhead can finally start enforcing the law the board passed more than a year ago.

The state ban will undoubtedly meet its own legal challenges. If it survives, once it takes effect, it may make the town law moot.

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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: