NYC Laws Aimed at Stamping Out Puppy Mills Upheld

MANHATTAN (CN) – Pet shops and New York breeders lost another legal battle Thursday against two animal-welfare laws designed to curb puppy mills in the city.

One of the 2015 laws says pet shops can sell only dogs and cats from Class-A-licensed breeders who have not had their licenses suspended in the last five years. The other requires that the animals are spayed or neutered before customers can buy them.

Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, Class-A breeders are any who breed animals on their own premises. The New York City laws specifically forbid pet stores from buying animals from Class-B or exempt breeders, or those who resold the animals or who had fewer than five breeding females.

Lawmakers designed the legislation to curb the practice of puppy mills, which funnel poorly bred or abused animals to pet shops for sale. The American Kennel Club has banded with breeders and pet shops in opposing the laws, however, saying the failure to hold rescue dogs to the same spay and neuter requirements evinces a bias against breeders.

Upholding the laws Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit noted that the legislation has had no ill effects since taking effect in April 2016 and addresses “problems of significant importance to the city and its residents.”

In bringing its suit against the city, the New York Pet Welfare Association, an association of pet stores, veterinarians and breeders, claimed that the laws were pre-empted by the 1996 Animal Welfare Act and violated the constitutional rights of breeders.

Calling the regulations unsafe, the group noted that young animals could develop fatal infections if spayed or neutered at 8 months old.

The complaint said New York City “has replaced professional judgment with a mandate that jeopardizes the veterinarian’s license and patient’s health.”

Though a federal judge did impose a one-year injunction against the laws, that relief dissolved when the court ultimately dismissed. Affirming that outcome this morning, the Second Circuit said that the association “misses the point” by arguing that the laws go beyond federal regulation.

“Breeders and distributors’ ability to sell to city pet shops has no bearing on the licensing scheme’s ability to facilitate federal enforcement activities,” U.S. District Judge Edward Korman wrote for the panel, sitting by designation from New York’s Eastern District. “Distributors will still have to get licenses, will still have to provide information to federal offiicals, and will still have to open their facilities to federal inspection.”

When drafted, according to the 29-page opinion, the AWA “unambiguosly envision[ed] continuing state animal welfare regulation” and would not replace state regulations.

Korman also found that the laws do not discriminate against interstate commerce or out-of-state breeders because “pet shops will [still] need to import puppies into New York, and the interstate market will have every incentive to meet demand.”

The association failed to sway the panel that the spay and neuter requirements violated any state law that requires veterinarians to obtain informed consent of pet owners before sterilizing pets.

Nancy Halpern, an attorney for the association with the firm Fox Rothschild, has not returned an email seeking comment.