Statewide effort will promote enforcement of consumer protection laws, target animal fighting and animal cruelty
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced the formation of a new animal protection initiative aimed at shutting down criminal animal fighting rings, ensuring compliance with New York state's Pet Lemon Law, charging those who abuse or neglect animals, and cracking down on the abuses of so-called "puppy mills" in order to protect the welfare of the animals being sold and the consumers. Drawing on resources from the Office of the Attorney General's regional offices as well as many of the office's bureaus, this new initiative will use civil and criminal remedies to target allegations of animal cruelty and unscrupulous sales of pets and other animals.
In announcing the new animal protection initiative, Schneiderman also highlighted a string of recent successes in combating animal cruelty and related issues. He announced a civil settlement with a Yonkers pet store that was keeping animals in unsafe and inhumane conditions. The settlement includes a $20,000 fine and an agreement that the store cease its illegal activities.
"Fighting animal cruelty is both a consumer protection issue and a public safety issue," Schneiderman said. "There is a direct correlation between the dog fighting rings and other criminal enterprises, including gangs, gambling and illegal drugs, that put our communities at risk. At the same time, New Yorkers spend millions of dollars each year on the companionship a pet can provide. I am committed to enforcing our state's consumer protection laws and protecting the right of every New Yorker to live in a safe community."
Protection of Consumers from Unscrupulous Pet Sellers
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association's U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, more than 50 percent of New York households include at least one pet. In addition to the cost of purchasing pets, the average pet owner spends hundreds of dollars to care for them. New York's Pet Lemon Law is aimed at ensuring the good health of cats and dogs sold in the state.
New York law grants consumers very specific rights when they purchase dogs and cats from pet stores. For example, consumers have the right to know the source of the dog or cat they are considering for purchase, and the history of vet treatments. If a consumer purchases a sick dog or cat and a veterinarian certifies the animal as unfit within 14 days of a sale, the consumer has the right to a refund, exchange, or reimbursement of veterinary costs up to the cost of the pet.
Consumers have the right to ask questions about the breeders used by pet stores and receive accurate information in return. For example, if a breeder is a large scale breeder - commonly referred to as "puppy mills" - the consumer has the right to know. The OAG will monitor whether pet stores are being honest and following the law, and bring civil or criminal prosecutions where appropriate.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The OAG's initiative will also target those who abuse or neglect animals. One example of such types of abuse is dog fighting, which is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. New York has multiple statutes addressing animal abuse, including animal fighting. For example, an animal fighting conviction can result in up to four years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
In addition, animal abuse can be a "gateway crime" that destabilizes communities. Many communities report growing involvement of juvenile and other offenders in dog fighting or animal abuse, often as a part of gang involvement. This has created an underground environment that often includes other criminal activities, such as illegal gambling, possession of illegal weapons and drugs. Raids on dog fighting rings often result in the arrest of many offenders with outstanding warrants.
The attorney general's animal protection initiative will promote public safety by cracking down on individuals or groups that abuse or neglect companion animals; pursue criminal animal fighting enterprises; and protect consumers who do not wish to purchase sick or diseased animals from in-state or out-of-state "puppy mills" by ensuring compliance with New York's consumer protection laws.
The initiative is comprised of investigators and assistant attorneys general across the entire state, from the OAG's regional offices, the consumer fraud bureau, the criminal prosecutions bureau, the organized crime task force and the investigations bureau, who will work to bring the perpetrators of these and other animal crimes to justice.
"We are thankful to Attorney General Schneiderman for his persistent leadership in combating some of the worst forms of animal cruelty and protecting both the animals and people of New York state," said Stacy Wolf, vice president and chief counsel of the ASPCA's humane law enforcement and legal advocacy departments. "The new animal protection initiative sends a clear message that perpetrators who engage in animal cruelty will be held accountable for their actions."
"Animal protection laws are only meaningful if put to use, and Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to robust enforcement can make New York state a national leader in the effort to protect animals from willful cruelty," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "This initiative says loud and clear, to everyone, that there'll be a zero tolerance policy for animal abuse."
In recent months, the attorney general's office has conducted several successful efforts related to animal cruelty and animal abuse. On Wednesday, Schneiderman announced his office has reached a settlement with the owner of a Yonkers pet store who was keeping animals in unsafe and inhuman conditions, selling sick puppies, and engaging in a variety of deceptive and illegal business practices. Pursuant to the agreement, Louis Gaudio, owner of Exotic Pet Warehouse Inc., doing business as Puppies Puppies Puppies at 650B Central Park Avenue in Yonkers, will be required to maintain clean and safe animal housing, to properly vaccinate animals and closely monitor animal health, and to comply with laws that protect animals against inhumane treatment. He is also required to cease selling sick animals, to make restitution to any consumers who purchased sick animals, and to pay $20,000 in penalties and costs.
Earlier this month, Schneiderman announced his office arrested Mary Jo Garlo and Peter Francese and charged them and their business - Great American Auction Service Inc. - with illegal commercialization of wildlife for offering two footstools made from the feet of endangered elephants for sale at their Dutchess County business. New York state's environmental conservation law prohibits the sale of elephant parts, including ivory, without first obtaining a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Permits can only be obtained for items that pre-date the listing of the elephant as an endangered species in 1978. The defendants each face up to a year in jail and fines of $5,000.
Last year, following reports that Angel's Gate - a high profile animal hospice center that was receiving donations from around the country to support injured or disabled animals - was neglecting the animals in its care, Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Angel's Gate Inc. for consistently violating New York law by failing to file and make publicly available the financial reports required by charitable organizations. Angel's Gate, a Delaware County animal hospice, allegedly took in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in donations from the public without publicly accounting for any of those funds. Angel's Gate was subsequently shut down.
New Yorkers seeking to report consumer complaints, animal abuse or give anonymous tips about potential animal fighting rings are asked to call 1-800-771-7755 and press 1.
For more information on Schneiderman's animal protection initiative, visit www.ag.ny.gov/feature/animal-protection-initiative.