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Dog lovers protest bill that would prohibit puppies from sale before 14 weeks

The first public hearing on proposed legislation that would regulate pet dealers in Suffolk County met with resistance Tuesday.

Opponents of the proposed measure waited three hours for the chance to speak out against one aspect of the bill they found particularly egregious, a provision that would prohibit an animal from being sold before the age of 14 weeks. The hearing was held at the Suffolk County Legislature meeting at the Riverhead County Center.

The measure, co-sponsored by Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Legis. William Spencer (D-Huntington) follows a new state law sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle that allows municipalities to regulate pet dealers.

“New York State’s ‘pet dealer’ law wasn’t strong enough to end the reign of unregulated puppy mills,” LaValle said in a press release last month announcing the bill’s signing by the governor.

The new legislation would allow local municipalities to have greater control, he said.

Scneiderman said the proposed county law is not intended to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs or put pet stores out of business.

“It’s about the ethical treatment of animals,” Schneiderman said.

The law would require disclosure of where the animal was bred, as well as the posting of the breeder’s latest USDA inspection report, and prohibit an animal being offered for sale, trade, or give-away before 14 weeks of age. The dog or cat must also have been already weaned from its mother and must be in good health, according to the bill.

Carlee Ogeka, a Southampton business owner who owns puppies that she purchased at eight weeks of age, said that age is the best for socializing. “I wouldn’t have wanted any older,” she said. “That’s the prime time for socializing. Ask any behaviorist or trainer; they would not support this measure.”

Also opposed to the legislation was Marianne Mineo of Hampton Bays. “I”m no professional dog trainer but I’ve raised and trained five Lab retrievers, four out of five that have been part of our family since they were eight weeks old. I consider myself a responsible pet owner.”

Her aim, Mineo said, is to responsibly train puppies to be “good canine citizens.” And, she added, “The earlier the socialization, the better.”

Her fifth puppy, Mineo said, lived in a kennel for 22 hours a day from the time he was eight to 21 weeks old. “I can tell you that although he is a lovely dog, it has been a much bigger project to socialize him. I can see a clear difference in his socialization and maturity between him and the other dogs I’ve raised.”

Marcy Burke, a Huntington Station vice president of Avidog International, a company geared toward helping to train puppies, said she’s a golden retriever breeder and applauded the efforts of the Suffolk County Legislature to “improve the lives of dogs and kittens in Suffolk County.”

However, she added, science has proven that socializing puppies “during the sensitive period” between three to 16 weeks is important, so that puppies can learn to bond with humans, and to interact and function as stable members of society.

“Puppies need to be in their homes well prior to 14 weeks of age,” she said. She compared the situation to orphaned babies in Romania left in their cribs for three years. “These puppies will be damaged for life,” she said.

Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) asked Burke if she believed educating the public would be a better idea than raising the age at which puppies can be sold.

“Education is absolutely better,” Burke said.

Lise Pratt, Burke’s twin and partner in Avidog, said the if the legislation passed, the “damage will be irreparable.”

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) asked for a definition of “pet dealer”; if a person breeds between nine and 25 dogs per year from a residence, not a business, they would not be considered a pet dealer, according to the proposed law.

Schneiderman recessed the public hearing until March 18 at 4 p.m. at the county center in Hauppauge.