On the internet, nobody knows you’re a puppy mill dog.
New Jersey lawmakers are looking to change that in a groundbreaking bill that animal advocates say could be an important step toward the end of cruel, large-scale pet breeding operations.
Across the country, pet stores are increasingly required to sell only cats and dogs from animal shelters — not commercial breeders. It’s a move intended to help bring an end to the “puppy mill” industry, into which an estimated 10,000 large-scale commercial pet breeders produce some 2,000,000 puppies per year, often in unthinkably cruel conditions.
But online sales have largely gone unregulated, leaving what advocates see as a big hole in these animal welfare efforts.
A bill currently under consideration in the New Jersey Senate is intended to help fill that hole.
S63 was introduced by Senator Ray Lesniak — for whom getting puppy mills out of New Jersey is part of his political platform.
“They say dogs are man’s best friend,” Lesniak said in April. “But it’s important for us to be their best friend.”
The bill expands a current law, the Pet Purchase Protection Act. Now, this law places some requirements on New Jersey pet stores — for example, pet shops currently may not sell cats and dogs from breeders who are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or if the breeders have a number of Animal Welfare Act violations.
Under the current version of S63 — which has changed form a couple of times, since its introduction in January — anyone who sells five or more cats and dogs “sight unseen” to folks inside New Jersey would have to comply with the law’s requirements. Sight unseen means that the buyer hasn’t met the animal before purchasing him or her — so this would, for the first time, include online pet sellers.
The bill would also completely prohibit outdoor pet sales — like at flea markets and in parking lots — where the animals often come from suspicious sources.
On top of that, the bill would require that any new pet stores could only sell cats and dogs from shelters and rescue groups (though existing pet stores would be grandfathered in, and not face this requirement). These laws are ordinarily enacted at the city or county level; New Jersey’s would be the first such statewide requirement.
“This is the most comprehensive puppy mill sales bill to ever be introduced,” says Amy Jesse, the puppy mills policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States.
On Thursday, S63 was voted out of the Senate Budget Committee — passing with a vote of 7 to 5. Jesse tells BarkPost the bill will likely be voted on by the full Senate this coming Thursday.
“We do expect this bill to pass the full Senate, and then we expect a companion bill to be introduced and pass in the Assembly in the fall,” she said. “We are optimistic that S63 will become law.”
The hope then is that other states will adopt similar protections, says Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society* — who believes these positive changes may come incrementally, but they’re coming, and they are leading toward something good.
“Ultimately, we would like to see every state embrace sweeping statewide reform when it comes to pet breeding and sales,” she said. “I believe we are at a tipping point, and that we are on a clear path to a day without puppy and kitten mills.”
* The usual disclaimer here: This journalist’s brother, Lee Greenwood, is an attorney with Best Friends Animal Society. It’s a great coincidence that he and I have such compatible professional interests.
Featured image via Flickr/Walter Rumsby
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