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Lesniak's 'puppy mill' bill causing some industry concern

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State Sen. Raymond Lesniak has sponsored a bill further cracking down on the 'puppy mill' business.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak has sponsored a bill further cracking down on the 'puppy mill' business. - ()

Over the summer, the state Senate passed a bill aimed at further cracking down on its position against so-called “puppy mills,” or large-scale, commercial breeders.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), looked to require any new pet store licensed on or after Jan. 12 of next year to only sell dogs or cats that hailed from kennels, shelters or animal rescue organizations.

Proposed as a revision to the state’s Pet Purchase Protection Act, the year-old law hailed nationally as a tough check on puppy mills, the Senate-approved bill sought to also prohibit kennels, shelters or animal rescue organizations from purchasing dogs or cats from the commercial breeders.

But while few questioned Lesniak’s good intentions with the measure, some in the pet industry were concerned that it overreaches.

Gary Hager, owner of Bark Avenue Puppies in Red Bank, called the bill a “job destroyer” that is “going to put the last remaining pet stores in New Jersey out of business.”

“It has a reasonable goal, but its methods are completely inappropriate,” said Hager. “The goal of stopping puppy mills, we’re all for. We’re also all for adoption and rescues. We believe in that, too. But we also think that the New Jersey consumer, which has had this right for the longest time, the ability to choose, this bill absolutely, positively takes it away.”

Mike Bober, CEO and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said that, with New Jersey already being one of the most regulated states in the industry through laws already on the books, Lesniak’s latest bill is too much.

“We believe this is not going above and beyond,” said Bober. “We believe this is going in the wrong direction. The reality is that the protections that are in place, that have been in place since June of last year, they’ve already been demonstrated to have a positive impact on the state of pet sales in New Jersey.”

Hager and Bober both believe that the bill, as passed by the Senate in June and sent to the Assembly for consideration, would unwisely make it harder for new pet stores to open and effectively hurt the industry on the whole.

Until something is in writing and formally introduced, those arguments still stand.

But Lesniak says he’s planning to amend the bill in a few ways that should quell some of its opponents’ concerns.

First, Lesniak says he’s eliminating the grandfathering portion of the measure and lifting the restriction on new pet stores to only source from kennels, shelters or animal rescues.

Essentially, pet stores would then only be barred from purchasing dogs or cats from breeders that are unlicensed or have tallied three prior violations.

“Any pet store can open now, the only problem they may have with the bill, and it’s too bad, is that they will not be able to source from any breeder that is unlicensed … or that has three violations,” Lesniak said.

Lesniak said that, once the amendments are introduced, critics will “really have nothing to object to.”

“The only reason to object to it now is because they’re doing the bidding of the puppy mills themselves,” Lesniak said.

The amended bill will be more focused on its main purpose, Lesniak added.

“When I introduced it, it wasn’t aimed at the pet stores themselves,” said Lesniak. “But, now, it’s aimed exclusively at the puppy mills themselves.”

Bober said that “without seeing any kind of formal amendment, it’s difficult for us to take a position either way.”

“Until an amendment is proposed, the only version of this legislation that we have to go on is the one that passed the Senate,” Bober said. “We still consider that version to be counterproductive.”

That said, Bober is still encouraged by news of the proposed amendment. He noted it sounds like a “reiteration of New Jersey’s current law,” the Pet Purchase Protection Act, which he noted his organization and its members are “strong supporters” of.

“If this amendment is really just a reiteration of existing state law, then certainly we would applaud that,” Bober said.

One thing that Bober says hasn’t changed is the dialogue, or lack thereof, between industry members like himself and Lesniak’s office.

Both Hager and Bober have said that past attempts to discuss the bill and their concerns with Lesniak have gone unrecognized.

“We did reach out to discuss topical amendments,” Bober said. “We were told that there were certain elements that he was unwilling to compromise on and, therefore, that would be unnecessary.”

And it’s conversation they still want to have, with or without the new amendments.

“We’re firm believers that good policy comes from having all sides and all viewpoints represented,” said Bober.

Lesniak said that he recalls once being approached by a woman yelling at him about the bill in a parking lot at an unrelated event. Other than that, he says he doesn’t remember ever turning down a discussion.

If someone’s still got concerns, Lesniak says to give him a call.

“I talk to everybody,” Lesniak said.

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