New York bans retail sale of dogs, cats; law targets puppy mills

On the heels of a nearly two-year effort and a push from celebrities, the state of New York on Thursday banned the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits.

Flying drone with camera

The historic move came after Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Puppy Mill Pipeline Bill into law.

The new law, created in an effort to end the puppy mill-to-pet store pipeline and stop abusive commercial breeders, takes effect in 2024.

The legislation will also allow New York pet stores that previously sold live dogs, cats and rabbits to charge animal shelters rent to use their space for adoptions.

“Dogs, cats and rabbits across New York deserve loving homes and humane treatment,” Hochul said in a statement. “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.”

Pet store owners have one year to comply with the new law after signing, with violators facing fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

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Hochul’s actions drew praise from the bill’s sponsors as well as celebrities and animal welfare groups nationwide.

“It is an amazing end-of-the-year gift to finally have the Puppy Mill Pipeline bill become law! New Yorkers will soon be able to adopt the cute puppies, kittens and bunnies they see in pet store windows without supporting the cruel puppy mill industry,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, who championed the bill, in a statement. “Some of the worst puppy mills around the country have long supplied New York’s pet stores with animals that were raised in inhumane conditions, churning out litter after litter to drive a profit.”

“A longstanding goal for animal welfare groups across the state … the passage is a historic win for New York’s animals, consumers, and communities,” said Matt Bershadker, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals president and CEO said. “As a result, New York will go from having one of the country’s highest concentrations of pet stores that sell puppy mill puppies to a place that refuses to be an accomplice in this cruel process.

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Edie Falco, one of nearly two dozen celebrities who pushed for the law on paper, said her dog Sami was rescued from a puppy mill where she spent two years living in a box, in the dark, without a name and was forced to have puppies who were sold to pet stores.

“I’m grateful to Governor Hochul and New York lawmakers for taking action to protect other dogs from the horrific conditions Sami endured just to keep the cruel breeding industry in business,” Falco, who called herself a “lifelong New Yorker,” said in a statement.

In addition to Falco, Jennifer Coolidge, Justin Theroux, and Martha Stewart are among the celebrities who signed a letter addressed to the governor on Dec. 1 urging the governor to pass the bill.

Most of the puppies for sale in New York state pet stores have been transported from out-of-state puppy commercial breeding operations, commonly referred to as “puppy mills.” In 2021 alone, there were approximately 25,000 puppies from puppy mills brought into the state.

“The actual number is likely much higher,” said Bill Ketzer, ASPCA’s Senior Director of State Legislation, Eastern Division.

Ketzer said the Puppy Mill Pipeline law is necessary to ensure animal welfare because most of the puppies come from Midwest states, particularly Iowa and Missouri. New York has no jurisdiction to inspect for inhumane conditions in out-of-state commercial breeding. He stated that even if commercial breeding operations are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act are rarely enforced.

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“We know that New York state currently has no ability to control the types of cruelty that we’ve seen within these facilities,” said Ketzer.

Inhumane conditions

The ASPCA recently obtained documentation from the USDA and Iowa Department of Agriculture that detailed the inhumane conditions in an Iowa puppy mill owned by Henry Sommers. A notorious puppy supplier, Sommers recently shipped puppies to two New York pet stores, Teacup Pup and Astoria Pets, both located in Queens.

The documentation, including video footage and photos, was obtained by the ASPCA through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documented findings included:

  • Reports from 2014 through 2022 detail a failure to seek medical treatment for dogs. Many violations were considered serious or life-threatening.
  • Documents show Sommers possessed controlled substances that he used to sedate or euthanize dogs himself, without authorization or recommendation of a veterinarian. Reports suggest Sommers may be killing his dogs in a manner likely to inflict prolonged and painful death. 
  • Sommers had repeated violations for inadequate, unsanitary, and dangerous housing. Dogs were kept in enclosures that were too small, have exposed, pointed wires and flooring that allows dogs’ feet to be trapped.

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The bill was first introduced to state lawmakers in January 2021. It was passed with bipartisan support by the Senate in May and by the Assembly in June.

Reach Natalie Neysa Alund at Follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

Follow Kate Collins on Twitter: @kcollins213.

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