The Barking Boutique, which sells purebred and purpose-bred puppies, opened in the Town of Tonawanda just six months ago, but the store’s long-term future already seems in doubt.
A bill passed the State Legislature last week that would prohibit New York’s pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits, seeking to stop the flow of puppies that could be coming from puppy mills. The legislation, known as the Puppy Mill Pipeline Bill, would still allow pet stores to showcase animals available for adoption from shelters and other entities.
The bill now heads to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her consideration. Her office did not respond to a question about whether the governor intends to sign it.
If she does, the ban would go into effect one year later – at which point the Barking Boutique could close its location in Sheridan Plaza.
Barking Boutique owner David Boelkes, store General Manager Lynn Wiles and the Pet Advocacy Network, which represents pet retailers, are calling for Hochul to veto the bill, arguing it will do nothing to stop bad breeders or unregulated sellers but will instead harm regulated and inspected pet stores across the state.
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The bill, the Pet Advocacy Network said, would put more than 80 pet stores in the state out of business, including the Barking Boutique – which employs 26 people and has sold 300 puppies in Tonawanda since the store opened in December.
“The breeders that they’re trying to shut down, we don’t work with anyway, so they’re still going to be selling online,” said Boelkes, who opened his first store in 2017 in Michigan, where he now has three locations.
Barking Boutique, which lists its breeders online, said it has a “zero-tolerance policy for puppy mills or breeders who have substandard breeding practices.” Boelkes said there’s no information his business holds back, noting that a customer is provided with the name and address of the breeder, the dog’s medical records, pedigree certificate (essentially a family tree) and documentation showing the puppy’s parents’ age and condition.
Animal welfare groups such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States cheered the bill’s passage, saying New York is one of the puppy mill industry’s largest markets and, as such, has allowed businesses to operate that prioritize profit over the health of animals, especially breeding dogs.
“The Puppy Mill Pipeline Bill will finally end the sale of cruelly bred puppy mill dogs in pet shops across New York state, which has one of the country’s highest concentrations of pet stores that sell puppies,” ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker said in a statement.
On the sidewalk at the intersection of Sheridan Drive and Eggert Road protesters held signs reading, “Don’t Shop – Adopt” and “Pet Store Dogs=Puppy Mill Dogs.”
Raising awareness about the bill was one of the reasons about 40 protesters gathered in front of Sheridan Plaza in December, which is when the Barking Boutique marked its grand opening. Protesters also held signs reading, “Pet Store Dogs=Puppy Mill Dogs,” hoping to convince people to adopt dogs from rescue shelters rather than pay thousands of dollars for puppies that could come from large-scale commercial dog breeding operations.
Barking Boutique, which typically sells a puppy for between $2,500 to $4,000, usually has about 35 puppies in its store at any given time, finding homes for anywhere from 10 to 20 dogs a week.
Boelkes noted there is demand for puppies, and customers will still try to buy a puppy from another source – potentially underground – if his and other regulated businesses close.
“We want regulation,” Boelkes said. “We don’t want any pet store to be able to open up and sell puppy mill dogs. We don’t want that. We want pet stores that do it responsibly like we are. And if you aren’t, then don’t be in business.”
But he also said he knew such a bill was possible in New York, just as it is in any other state. For instance, Illinois recently joined California, Maryland, Maine and Washington and nearly 400 localities across 30 states in banning the sale of commercially raised puppies and kittens, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Boelkes said he saw the demand for the store in the Buffalo market and sees the proof in how many families have purchased a puppy since it opened. He said his business put about $200,000 into the Tonawanda location and signed a long-term lease with the landlord, who also made major investments.
If Hochul does sign the bill, Boelkes said he and others plan to push for amendments to try to stay in business.