Senate Bill Looking to Ban Pet Stores From Selling Animals Creates Controversy



Puppy for sale in the window of Citipups Chelsea. Photo: Elizabeth Hyman


A recently approved New York State Senate bill looks to make the selling of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores illegal throughout New York state.

Supporters of the bill say its intent is to crack down on so-called “puppy mills,” defined by the ASPCA as for-profit breeders that keep animals in cruel conditions. But, as the bill awaits Assembly approval next year, some pet stores fear it will put them out of business and are working to stop it from advancing.

“This should be a fight for responsible establishments versus irresponsible establishments, not kennels and shelters versus breeders and pet stores,” said Citipups Chelsea manager, Emilio Ortiz. Ortiz is using TikTok to redefine pet stores in the eyes of his 140,000 followers. “Pup Daddy,” as he’s known on the social media app, posts clips intended to deliver a message: the conditions in which animals are kept in pet stores, especially at Citipups, are not comparable to those in “puppy mills.” “People are so afraid to fight this stigma because there will be backlash. I wanted to create influence to put pressure on senators and it is working,” he said.

State senator Michael Gianaris is the bill’s sponsor. As he introduced the legislation on the Senate floor over the summer,  he said he hopes it will allow people to see that pets are beings with feelings rather than “commodities” like “cans of soup on a shelf.” He also said he hopes it will help prevent the brutal treatment many pets experience before arriving to retail stores.

Midtown Gazette reporter Teresa Zhang purchased her shih tzu, Mookie from Citipups in May. “The first day after he came home, he was coughing a lot. I am a first-time dog owner, so I freaked out because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. Zhang said the store took Mookie back for the weekend, continued to check up on him after he was sent home and covered the expenses for his visit to the vet the following week. Zhang said she was very pleased with her Citipups experience and now, Mookie is a perfectly healthy puppy.

Despite Zhang’s positive experience, Ortiz said he fears this bill will run Citipups into the ground. “Gianaris says only 4% of pet store sales are dogs, but that is irrefutably false and he knows it. He knows this will put all of us out of business,” Ortiz said.

In an interview with the Midtown Gazette, State senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., one of the bill’s co-sponsors said there are other options. “These retailers can partner up with adoption centers and shelters. No elected official is looking to hurt a business, we are better working together and building partnerships. I see the need to address the cruelty of retail pet stores,” he said.

New York has the highest number of puppy-selling pet stores in the nation, according to the Humane Society.

“Millions of animals are still being euthanized at shelters, in large part due to pet stores. It would be a wonderful thing if there was an under-population,” said Elinor Molbegott, legal counsel for the Humane Society of New York. She said pet stores say they don’t get dogs from “puppy mills,” but rather from breeders. “Responsible breeders would sell their own animals and take care of the breed, who these stores buy from are commercial breeders.”

Molbegott said commercial breeding facilities are very minimally regulated. An undercover investigation by the Humane Society last year found that at least eight breeders keeping puppies in unsatisfactory conditions later sold them to 20 pet stores in New York state. Citipups is not mentioned in the report.

Ortiz declined to provide the names of the breeders he works with.

As pet stores await an Assembly decision, Ortiz said he will continue to fight to save his store. “I thought I was fighting for the right to run an honest business, but I have realized it is really the fight for consumer choice and freedom.”