A measure aimed at stopping the sale of live animals bred or sold in inhumane conditions in New York may force locally owned pet stores to close up shop.
New York's roughly 80 pet stores would have to change their business model after lawmakers passed the Puppy Mill Pipeline bill before the session ended. The legislation bans the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits. The measure, sponsored by Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, aims to force the industry from buying or selling animals from large-scale breeding operations like puppy mills.
Gary Nudelman, who owns the pet stores NY Breeder and NYC Breeders downstate, said his small business of nearly 40 years would be forced to close if the bill is signed into law.
"The supplies, the dog food, this and that, you're competing with Petco, PetSmart, Amazon, Chewy. It's just, as a small-business owner, we can't buy in bulk like that," Nudelman said. "We have to buy what we sell for that week or that two weeks, so our prices are higher."
About 90% of Nudelman's business comes from retail dog sales. The pair of pet stores employ 55 people.
Representatives with Gov. Kathy Hochul's office would not indicate if the governor intends to sign the bill into law by the end of the year, or her response to its potential impact on business closures.
"Gov. Hochul is reviewing the legislation," Hochul's spokesman Avi Small said Thursday.
Animal welfare activists pushed for the bipartisan measure to help stop the sale of mistreated animals and encourage people to adopt pets not bred or sold in cruelty conditions.
The ASPCA defines a puppy mill as a large-scale dog breeding operation that prioritizes profit over an animal's well-being. Some commercial breeders keep their animals in confined spaces and lack proper veterinary care, food or socialization.
"I don't think this legislation, per se, is putting anybody out of business," said Bill Ketzer, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' senior legislative director. "If anything is putting them out of business, it's consumer education because people are realizing that this is a cruel and broken system. What you're doing when you buy a puppy from a pet store, you are supporting an inherently cruel and broken system that is not fixable."
Nudelman sells about 1,000 dogs annually and buys his animals from several dog brokers the ASPCA identifies as abusive puppy mills.
The ASPCA named Nudelman's businesses as one of several New York pet stores that get their puppies shipped from commercial breeding facilities, largely located in the Midwest, according to its April 2022 report "Where New York pet stores get puppies."
But Nudelman argues the ASPCA's reports are misleading and cite isolated incidents of a sick animal or dirty cage with sparse details about where or when.
"We only deal with people with USDA licenses — they're not problematic," Nudelman said in defense of the breeders in the report. "They're citing one instance from a woman who sells thousands of dogs."
The state does not have a legal definition for a puppy mill, and the phrase "puppy mill" is not found in the proposed legislation.
Nudelman showed several clean U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection records of the breeders he works with, noting breeders and pet store owners must keep extensive records and paper trail of every dog sold for several years.
"They can say all they want," he said of the ASPCA. "They're activists. They're after us.
"Some of these stores, these things they're showing on TV of these puppy mills, are not places we can get, nor would we want to get, our dogs from," he added.
Supporters of the bill say the USDA fails to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and approves licenses to breeders too easily.
"Just because someone issues you a license it doesn't mean they're doing their job," Ketzer said. "And we have seen over and over again, these are not isolated incidents."
A handful of lawmakers who voted against the bill argued the measure will only hurt legitimate breeders or small businesses and will not stop puppy mills from existing.
About 43% of puppies shipped to New York pet stores arrive by truck from Missouri, home to 750 commercial dog breeders, according to the report.
Roughly one quarter of puppies sent to New York pet stores for sale come from dog brokers.
"With so many good animals in need of rescue, there is no need for abusive puppy mills to supply pet stores, especially when less than two percent of [$130 billion national] pet store revenues come from pet sales," Gianaris said in a statement Thursday. "I hope Gov. Hochul signs this bill into law soon so we can better protect animals from the scourge of puppy mills."