Group Sues NYC over Pet Store Laws Favoring “Retail Rescue” and Mandating Juvenile Spay/Neuter

by Sheila Goffe and Phil M. Guidry

Earlier this month, the New York Pet Welfare Association (NYPWA) filed a complaint against New York City and its City Council in the U.S District Court, Eastern District of NY, over a new law governing how pet stores may source the pets they sell.  City pet stores received a temporary injunction from the new law, which had been due to go into effect on June 1.

The NYPWA is an association of pet stores, dog and cat breeders, veterinarians, pet owners and others whose mission includes ensuring that pet owners continue to have access to healthy, humanely raised, purebred pets.

The complaint alleges that laws recently adopted by the City Council to ban out-of-state pet dealers from access to city markets violates the Supremacy Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

The complaint further states the that the laws impermissibly favor the “retail rescue” industry with reported revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars over highly regulated businesses that hold USDA licenses and provide-purpose bred pets to NYC stores.

The suit specifically alleges that the new restrictions violate:

  • The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution—The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues Class A (breeder) and Class B (dealer) licenses.  Holders of USDA licenses are permitted to breed and sell animals, and purchase and resell animals, respectively, under the AWA.  The NYPWA claims that USDA licensees have a property interest in their federally-granted license; and that no USDA-Class B member of the NYPWA had received a citation for failure to comply with the AWA or had their USDA license terminated on a temporary or permanent basis.  The New York City law makes those licenses ineffective without a licensee’s notice of violation of any law or regulation and without an ability to answer such accusations.   
     
  • The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution—The NYPWA stipulates that the new law bans entry to the City’s pet markets from Class B USDA licensees, which places an undue burden on interstate commerce.  Further, it claims that the new law unfairly targets out-of-state breeders and dealers.

The NYPWA suit also alleges that the City’s new laws are preempted by:

  • The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA)—The new law prevents Class B dealers from performing as permitted by the federal government via the USDA.  Furthermore, the NYPWA claims that proponents of the legislation failed to provide allegations that any Class B USDA licensee failed to provide animals at least the minimum standard of care required by the AWA or its supporting regulations before denying them access to the City’s pet market. 
     
  • New York State law governing the practice of veterinary medicine—By legislatively mandating surgical procedures without consideration of the individual animal’s health, the law obviates a veterinarian’s professional, case-by-case judgment on the best course of treatment for an animal.  This is in direct conflict with professional standards of care required of veterinarians.  

The new laws were considered by the NY City Council in 2014, in a series of hearings in which the American Kennel Club participated. In written and oral testimony (Addendum 1, Addendum 2) before the committee, the AKC thanked the committee for incorporating some of the AKC’s recommended changes, but joined veterinarians, city residents breeders, and other constituents in strongly opposing the mandatory juvenile spay/neuter policy for puppies sold in the city – many of whom could be neonates as young as eight weeks of age.  The AKC also opposed the banning of puppies sourced from USDA licensees in lieu of rescue imports. Some of AKC’s recommendations were accepted; while others, including mandatory spay-neuter and restrictions on purpose-bred puppies, were not.

AKC’s Government Relations Department will provide updates on the NYPWA case as developments warrant.  For more information on the NYPWA or its suit against the City of New York, go to http://www.nypetwelfare.org, email contact@nypetwelfare.com, or go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/nypetwelfare.