Suffolk Legislature Creates Nation’s First Pet Store Rating System
The Suffolk County Legislature created the nation’s first rating program for pet stores that sell puppies. Seeking to appeal to socially conscious consumers as a means to combat the scourge of substandard dog-breeding facilities, known as “puppy mills,” the bill’s sponsor, Majority Leader Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), modeled his law after New York City’s renowned restaurant rating system. Instead of rating eateries based upon the cleanliness of their operations, this voluntary pet store rating program will reflect the quality of care provided to puppies at pet stores as well as the standard of care provided to dogs at the sourcing breeders.
Cooper’s proposed “Puppy and Dog Protection Rating Program” will be administered by a standing “Pet Store Rating Board” staffed by:
1) The Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs (or his designee).
2) A representative from the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
3) A representative of a Long Island-based animal welfare organization, selected by the County Legislature.
4) A retired veterinarian selected by the Long Island Veterinary Medical Association.
5) A representative of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
Aside from the Consumer Affairs Commissioner, the rest of the Board will serve voluntarily and at the pleasure of their respective appointing authorities. Board members will be responsible for considering applications, inspecting local pet stores, and reviewing conditions at both the pet stores and the breeding facilities that supply them with puppies. Based upon that work, the Rating Board will ultimately assign ratings.
Currently, there are an estimated 37 pet stores in Suffolk County that choose to sell puppies. In addition to window store-front ratings signage, the County’s Department of Consumer Affairs will publish the ratings of these stores on their website and will post a notice if a given pet store chooses not to participate in Cooper’s rating system.
Cooper believes in the same way higher-rated New York City restaurants attract more customers and drive up the quality of food service, his rating system will reward those participating pet stores who take the time and effort necessary to ensure their animals are sourced only from responsible breeders and live in humane conditions under their roofs.
“Today’s technology has made consumers more informed and empowered than ever before,” says Cooper. “This rating system will use the powers of the free market to make pet buyers—and the stores that want their business—more responsible. Raising the bar will benefit the County’s four-legged residents as well as our two-legged.”
The detailed criteria on which the pet store rating system is based will be determined by a “Pet Store Rating Criteria Committee”. In addition to developing the rating criteria, the Committee will also compose the pet store application form to be used by the Pet Store Rating Board. The Criteria Committee would consist of the following five members:
1) The Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs (or his designee, who will also serve as the Committee’s chair).
2) A representative from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
3) A representative from the American Kennel Club.
4) A representative from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
5) A representative from a Long Island-based animal welfare organization, to be selected by the County Legislature.
While not limited to just the following criteria, the Committee could consider including: cage hygiene; animal accessibility to clean bedding, fresh food and water; whether the store provides accurate documentation of health certificates; whether the store obtains their puppies from humane breeders, what the store does with puppies that do not sell; and how many sick or dead puppies were returned to the store in the past year.
To get the ball rolling, the Criteria Committee will be required to meet 30 days after Cooper’s law goes into effect. They will have 90 days to conduct their analysis and report their findings (in writing) to the Legislature and the County Executive. The Rating Board will work on a parallel track to the Criteria Committee and will begin their work once the rating criteria and applications form has been established.
Any pet store owner or operator dissatisfied with the rating assessed by the Board will have the right to update the information they provided and seek a review of their rating within 30 days of receiving their original assessment. No rating will be published on the Consumer Affairs website until after it has been reviewed and finalized by the Board.
In turn, the Board will also have the authority to investigate any allegations of fraudulent submission of information by a pet store. The Board can act on those findings by revoking a store’s rating for a period of one year if they determine that the pet store made significant and deliberate misrepresentations in their application process.
Story Provided by: Lora Gellerstein, Cheif Legislative Aide