Here’s why that’s a win for animal rights.
Few things embody the complexity of consumer capitalism more perfectly than the image of an adorable puppy playing in a pet store window. It’s hard not to idealize those delightful creatures. We press our noses against the glass trying to get closer to their cuteness, but most of us know that the reality behind pet store puppies is terrifying and cruel. Thankfully, the New York state legislators passed a bill last week that bans pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits.
The bill, which passed in the legislature last week and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), is called the New York Puppy Mill Pipeline Bill. It will prevent third-party retailers like pet stores from selling dogs and cats. The problem is not really the pet stores themselves, but the large scale breeding operations — such as “puppy mills” — that those animals come from.
“Right now, out of state puppy mills ship their puppies via a pipeline of middlemen to New York pet stores, where they are marketed as healthy puppies from responsible breeders,” Maureen Linehan, a spokesperson for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), told HuffPost. This is a crucial win for animal rights because, according to the ASPCA, New York has one of the highest concentrations of pet stores that sell puppies.
In case you’re worried that this means cute kittens are going to disappear from store windows — don’t. While the bill bans pet stores from obtaining animals from unethical large-scale pet breeding operations, it encourages retailers to partner with rescue agencies and pet adoption organizations. So, those adorable fur babies in the stores will be animals sourced from shelters and other adoption associations, and the money you spend on them will be more likely to go to ethical organizations instead of cruel underground breeding factories.
“With so many good animals in need of rescue, there is no need for abusive puppy mills to supply pet stores,” New York Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), said in a statement. “Our four-legged companions should be treated with respect, not like commodities.” Indeed. There is, after all, no puppy shortage in America.
This legislation is heartening, but as a long time animal rights activist, it feels like this kind of law should have been passed decades ago. Yes, a few other states — California, Maryland, Maine, Illinois, and Washington — as well as smaller jurisdictions have already passed similar bills, but I can’t help but wonder how puppy mills still exist. PETA has been purportedly fighting against the cruelty of such operations for over 30 years, yet despite their high profile tactics, they have done little to impact laws that would actually protect animals.
Instead, bills like the New York Puppy Mill Pipeline bill have gotten most of their support from less dramatic organizations — like the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the New York State Animal Protection Federation. To my mind, the passing of this bill deserves to be celebrated — and it’s also more evidence that the showy guerilla tactics of PETA are largely ineffective. Real change is often pushed forward by less sexy animal rights groups.