New York Bans Sale of Dogs, Cats and Rabbits in Pet Stores

The law, meant to combat abusive breeders, will take effect in 2024

A girl and adult look at a puppy in a pet store window
New York is now the sixth state to pass a law banning pet sales in stores, following California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland and Washington. M_a_y_a via Getty Images

The state of New York passed a law Thursday prohibiting the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores. The move is an attempt to halt the puppy-mill-to-pet-store pipeline and stop abusive breeders. 

“Dogs, cats and rabbits across New York deserve loving homes and humane treatment,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul says in a statement. “I'm proud to sign this legislation, which will make meaningful steps to cut down on harsh treatment and protect the welfare of animals across the state.”

Puppy mills—or large-scale dog breeding facilities—are often unregulated. At these sites, the dogs’ welfare is compromised in favor of maximizing profits, per the Humane Society of the United States, but most puppy mills remain legal. 

“In most states, a breeding kennel can legally keep dozens, even hundreds, of dogs in cages for their entire lives, as long as the dogs are given the basics of food, water and shelter,” the Humane Society writes on its website.

The organization estimates 10,000 puppy mills are currently operating in the U.S., with fewer than 3,000 regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Puppy mills that sell directly to the public are not required to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act, which sets minimum standards of care for animals sold, per the Humane Society. Those that sell to pet stores must legally be licensed and inspected by the USDA. But violations of the Animal Welfare Act are seldom enforced, Bill Ketzer, senior director of state legislation for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Eastern division, tells the Ithaca Journal’s Kate Collins. 

Animal rights activists have praised the new law, saying it will help diminish animal cruelty and encourage people to adopt some of the 6.3 million shelter animals in need of a home annually. ASPCA estimates approximately 920,000 shelter dogs and cats are euthanized every year. 

The new law, which goes into effect in 2024, will allow pet stores to rent out their space to shelters for adoption events. Under the law, customers may still buy animals directly from breeders, which proponents say will make them more aware of where their pets are coming from, writes Maysoon Khan for the Associated Press (AP). 

“If a consumer went to a mill and saw the awful conditions, they wouldn’t buy these animals,” New York State Senator Michael Gianaris tells the AP. “Dealing with a breeder allows people to see where their dog comes from, and it cuts off the middlemen that serve as a way to wash off the awful activities that take place at the mill.”

However, opponents say this new legislation will hurt responsible pet store owners. 

“By ending licensed and regulated local pet stores, you will remove the people who vet breeders, ensure the health of newly homed pets with established veterinarians and guarantee the success of a new pet family,” Jessica Selmer, the president of People United to Protect Pet Integrity (PUPPI), a coalition of pet store owners, says in a statement, per the New York Times’ Luis Ferré-Sadurní. 

The PUPPI statement notes that the law will do little to stop large-scale breeders, many of which are located outside of New York state, per the Times. In 2021, for example, 25,000 puppies were brought into New York from puppy mills, per the Ithaca Journal. Opponents say the law might encourage illegal sales from unethical breeders on the black market, writes Reuters’ Tyler Clifford. 

Currently, about 80 pet stores operate in New York. 

“Ninety percent of our business is selling dogs. We’re not going to survive this,” Emilio Ortiz, a manager at Citipups pet shop in New York City, tells the AP. “They’re closing the good actors along with the bad actors.” 

New York is now the sixth state to pass a ban on pet sales in stores, following California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland and Washington.