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Court Upholds Anti-Puppy Mill Laws

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 13, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

New York City has more cats and dogs than most American cities have people, and that's the problem.

The city has to deal with about one million dogs and cats -- not to mention half a million feral cats -- but it recently got some help from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court upheld the city's ordinance regulating "puppy mills," the pejorative term for some commercial dog distributors.

The law requires that pet shops may purchase dogs and cats only from "Class A" breeders, which are designated by federal law as breeders with valid licenses to breed on their own premises. "Class B" breeders, who generally buy and sell animals, are not permitted under the city law.

"Requiring pet shops to purchase directly from Class A breeders protects consumers by making it impossible to obscure the source of an animal by using a middleman, enhances animal welfare by reducing the incidence of disease and behavioral problems associated with irresponsible breeding, and alleviates the burden of providing care in public shelters for animals abandoned because of such problems," Judge Edward Korman wrote for the court in New York Pet Assocation v. City of New York.

Cats and Dogs Living Together

New York City enacted the law, which also says the animals must be neutered or spayed before customers may buy them, in 2015. City officials, who had struggled with state lawmakers for years over animal regulation, hoped it would solve part of the problem.

The city had long worked to sort out a tangle of problems in the pet business -- from irresponsible breeding of animals, to their sale to unwitting consumers, and ultimately to an overpopulation of unwanted animals. That included more than 500,000 feral felines, although the city let nature take its course as the cats helped control the rat population.

On the day the new regulations were to take effect, a band of breeders filed suit to challenge the law's prohibition against Class B breeders. They claimed the laws were preempted by federal and state laws, but a district court judge rejected the claims and the appeals court affirmed.

"Breeders and distributors' ability to sell to city pet shops has no bearing on the licensing scheme's ability to facilitate federal enforcement activities," Judge Korman wrote for the unanimous panel. "Distributors will still have to get licenses, will still have to provide information to federal officials, and will still have to open their facilities to federal inspection."

No Dog Left Behind

The plaintiffs also challenged the spay and neuter requirements, saying the law exempted rescue dogs from spay and neuter requirements and imposed on veterinarians' independent judgment about the surgery. The appellate court rejected that claim as well.

"If a veterinarian feels that performing a surgery would violate her obligations under any New York law, she may simply refuse," the court said.

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