by Tracie Koehnlein
Many of you may have heard about the new law in NJ barring the sale of puppies and kittens in stores unless they come from a rescue. However, some of the headlines have been misleading on the full details of the bill—what it may accomplish, where it may fall short—and the ongoing fight for animal rights.
In February of this year Senator Raymond Lesniak proposed Bill S63, which would ban the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores that do not come from rescues, as well as “order to ship” puppies from the internet. This bill was written with the intention of eliminating the sale of puppies from puppy mills (and less commonly, kitten mills) in New Jersey. “Puppy and kitten mills” are terms applied to large commercial breeding facilities that put the financial gain of the breeders above the care and well-being of the animals. The animals that live in these facilities are typically kept in small cages or pens for their entire lives, underfed, never groomed, and often need to be brought to a veterinarian for health concerns unrelated to giving birth. The breeding stock often have a host of serious physical, behavioral, and genetic issues that can also be passed on to their babies. Puppies born in these mills are then sold at pet stores and from ads on websites like nextdaypets.com and puppyfinder.com to consumers under the impression their new pets are coming from good breeders.
Senator Lesniak and many animal activists have been working for months to pass this bill into law. I personally investigated 24 of the 30+ puppy stores in NJ and researched their breeders, unearthing much of the horror the puppies’ parents live in. The animal rights side presented the NJ Senate with a great deal of evidence of NJ puppy stores purchasing dogs from breeding facilities that had numerous health and housing violations, as well as stories from people who purchased puppies from NJ stores that developed illnesses, some of whom even died shortly after they were brought home. Despite all of this evidence the fight was a hard one, as the retail pet industry is massive and can afford high powered lawyers to refute any claims with cherry-picked or false information. The retail pet industry’s arguments swayed the Senate enough to force Senator Lesniak to make drastic amendments to the bill. Luckily, after much deliberation, delays, and amendments, a modified S63 passed the assembly this June—though, we can’t celebrate yet. This bill still has to pass out of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, pass through the whole assembly once more, and then be signed into law by Governor Christie.
If passed this fall, the modified bill would prevent any new puppy stores from opening, but the new version falls short of outright banning these stores completely: existing puppy stores would be grandfathered in. These remaining stores would be under more scrutiny and face stronger penalties (as well as potentially being permanently shut down) if they repeatedly buy from breeders with violations. However, these regulations will be difficult to enforce. No one except dedicated animal activists will be monitoring the business practices of the stores.
So while we still have a lot to do to protect dogs and cats in NJ, we are making steady progress. In the meantime you can offer your support by e-mailing or writing to your local senators to tell them you support Bill S63, as well as contacting your town councils and mayors about passing local ordinances that ban puppy stores in your hometown. You can also help the welfare of dogs and cats by never purchasing a pet at a pet store or the internet and educating others to do the same. If anyone is interested in the issue of puppy mills or animal welfare and would like to get involved, feel free to contact me directly on Facebook.
Tracie is an animal rights activist and Peaks Pet Nanny servicing West Orange and surrounding areas