Tag Archive | "puppy mills"

A Champion of Animal Rights

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by Karl Grossman

He started in high school working to protect animals, and as Jon Cooper ends his tenure as a Suffolk County legislator, that’s been a major legacy.

A Cooper measure creating the nation’s first “rating program” for pet stores was enacted last month. Mr. Cooper wanted more: a county law clamping down on “puppy mills,” substandard, dog-breeding facilities that send puppies to Suffolk.

“My original proposal was to ban the sale of puppies from these puppy mills in pet stores here,” he noted last week. But, he was told, state authority “pre-empted” the county from such legislation. This, he said, is despite prohibitions aimed at “puppy mills” in localities all over the nation.

“So I came up with the idea for a rating system to use the free market to steer people to responsible breeders.”

A “Puppy and Dog Protection Rating Program” is to be set up, administered by a “Pet Store Rating Board.” Among its members will be representatives of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, and the county’s consumer affairs commissioner.

It’s a voluntary program in which pet stores in Suffolk that sell puppies would post the ratings they receive from the board. The ratings will also be on the county’s website.

The criteria for the ratings include whether the store is deemed to be obtaining puppies “from humane breeders … whether the store provides accurate documentation of health certificates … how many sick or dead puppies were returned to the store in the past year.”

The plan will “assist pet-buyers and also reward pet stores which take the time and effort necessary to ensure their animals are sourced only from responsible breeders,” he says.

Not being able to go as far as wanted in protecting animals isn’t new for Mr. Cooper. When a three-year old dog named Zephyr was crushed to death by a steel leghold trap while hiking with his owner, Gail Murphy of Sag Harbor, in the Long Pond Greenbelt in Bridgehampton in 2006, he sought to have “inhumane trapping methods” banned in Suffolk.

Suffolk County was told that the state pre-empted such legislation. Mr. Cooper had to settle for a ban on the use of steel leghold traps on county property. He pointed to the power of the hunting lobby in Albany as causing a protective stance on such traps.

Still, in pushing for animal rights, Mr. Cooper was able to gain passage of a county law last year that established a county online registry with the names of persons convicted of animal abuse crimes. It’s the first such “Animal Abuse Offenders Registry” in the U.S. This month it was amended to provide that the names of offenders remain on the list for 10 instead of the original five years. A Cooper measure passed this year requires that pet stores “check the names of potential animal purchasers” against this registry and not sell to them.

Earlier Cooper bills include a “Safe Pets and Families Program” that has the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals set up shelters for pets of domestic violence victims, and a “Disaster Animal Rescue Plan” for pet shelters to be established during emergencies.

Mr. Cooper, of Lloyd Harbor, says his interest in animals goes back to being “raised in a home known as the ‘neighborhood zoo.’ Every time people found a stray dog or cat, my parents took it in. Our house was considered a safe refuge for animals. Also, my sister and I had rabbits, hamsters, chameleons, mice, birds.”

In high school, he launched the “Syosset Save Our Seals Society” challenging the slaughter of baby seals in Canada. And as a student at Duke University, he formed the National Committee for Humane Trapping to outlaw steel leghold traps.

Because of term limits precluding a Suffolk legislator from serving more than six consecutive two-year terms, he’s out after 12 years at year’s end.

But he has made political connections far beyond Suffolk having been the 2008 Long Island campaign chair for Barak Obama. He has developed a close relationship with the president. Indeed, he was with him at several functions in recent weeks, one at The White House.

A federal position is a possibility if Mr. Cooper wants it.

If he decides to do that, he could be in a position to develop policy to help animals that is not “pre-empted” by a higher level of government.

Saving Puppies from the Mills

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madonna of the mills -- pen

By Joan Baum

It may come as a shock to learn that The Amish, known for their simple, God-fearing ways, have been since the 1970s at the forefront of the puppy mill business in this country, and that the ASPCA has identified Lancaster County, Penn., home to many Pennsylvania Dutch, as the “puppy mill capital of the East,” with “the highest concentration of puppy mills of any county in the nation” (Missouri has the dubious distinction of being the largest puppy mill state). Among those focusing on this horrific statistic, count Laura Amato, the crusading subject of a shattering, eye-opening documentary to be shown at Bay Street Theatre on September 10 to benefit the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) and to raise awareness about this still relatively unknown and cruel commercial enterprise. Reportedly, 99 percent of puppies sold annually in pet stores come from puppy mills, and an overwhelming number, whether purchased at brick and mortar shops or online, have parasites, infections or unrevealed illnesses.

The film, “Madonna of the Mills,” follows New Yorker Amato, a dog lover and indefatigable advocate of humane breeding and pet store full disclosure, as she and others recount the travails and effects of rescues. Estimates are that the number of dogs she has saved and helped rehabilitate in the few years she has been at her mission, is well over 2,000 — mostly breeder mothers, worked almost to death. Although ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) takes in unwanted animals, SASF is committed to give shelter to every dog that comes its way, without selection.

Despite the efforts of the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, too few people know that so-called baby-maker dogs are not untypically kept outdoors or crowded into stacks of wire cages, given little or no clean water, food, exercise, toys, treats or attention, as campaign manager Kathleen Summers says in the film. Bred twice a year, females are usually burned out by age 5 and killed. Moreover, their unchecked progeny tend to inherit defects, including serious eye, blood, heart, respiratory, renal and musculoskeletal disorders. Indeed, it was Laura Amato’s purchase at a mall of a golden Lab with undisclosed epilepsy that spurred her activism. So cute – some puppies as young as eight weeks (some say younger) — who would think beyond the sweet face? Who could imagine incomplete or falsified records, virtual scams?

Amato is determined to persuade puppy mill participants to cease and desist.  Not easy. The puppy mill business is relatively good, especially for those whose way of life is in decline, as was the case for many Midwestern farmers at the end of World War II. Raising puppies as a cash crop proved easier than trying to deal with widespread agricultural failure and expensive livestock care. All the farmers had to do was convert chicken coops and rabbit hatches to breeding cages. With the growth of suburbs and malls, pet stores grew.


For sure, education is one way, legislation another, to combat the problem. Outreach Coordinator Cathy Duemler notes that SASF “gives back to the community” by way of programs for Sag Harbor students who are disabled and autistic; the foundation also works with Fresh Air kids in the summer. Though he has been at the helm for only two months, SASF Executive Director Ed Fritz is determined to take in and get proper health care for discarded and unwanted puppy mill dogs, a problem exacerbated by the offering of puppies online. Formerly in the town’s budget, SASF was privatized 18 months ago, and it is Fritz’s hope to have the community see SASF as an institution of “value” and “main resource” in the drive to improve adoption processes.


As for legislation, the withdrawal this past July of a proposed bill by Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper due to administrative conflict (state vs. local jurisdiction) which would have banned the retail sale of puppies by pet stores in Suffolk County unless the puppies were from shelters, rescue organizations or local breeders, would appear to weaken efforts at reform, but Cooper is already at work on a rating system for pet stores (albeit voluntary).


The approximate one-hour “Madonna of the Mills” will be shown at Bay Street on Saturday, September 10 at 8:00 p.m., preceded by a fundraising cocktail hour and silent auction. The event is part of Harbor Fest weekend to which SASF will bring a number of adoptable dogs. Prior to the film, the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery will hold a  Special Animal Art Exhibition to benefit SASF, with complimentary wine and cheese, featuring “creatures” painted by a dozen or so artists (90 Main Street, 725-1161). Following the film, Bay Street will host a panel discussion with, among others, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Legislator Jon Cooper. For ticket info, call 631-7387.