At the beginning of January, a commercial breeder in Sprakers, N.Y., drew the ire of dog lovers for leaving dozens of small and medium sized dogs and puppies outside with nothing more than empty plastic barrels to keep warm as temperatures plummeted well below zero.
Numerous warnings about the dangers of leaving pets outside and pleas to bring them in when it’s getting as cold as it has been have been issued in multiple states, while dozens of stories about dogs either being rescued or freezing to death alone in the cold continue to circulate.
Photos of the dogs at Flat Creek Border Collies were spread around Facebook, and a firestorm ensued. Canine advocates called on local law enforcement to investigate complaints about the breeder. However, when they did investigate, neither police nor a veterinarian found anything in violation of New York State law or local codes thanks in large part to the vagueness of the state’s guidelines for the Minimum Standards of Animal Care, which state:
The temperature surrounding the animal shall be compatible with the health and well-being of the animal. Temperature shall be regulated to protect each animal from extremes and shall not be permitted to fall below ranges which would pose a health hazard to the animal.
Following calls to have the dogs rescued, the Lexus Project got involved and took the case to court. Since then most of the dogs have been removed and are being cared for by the Montgomery County SPCA, the New England Border Collie Rescue and Glen Highland Farm. The owner was allowed to keep puppies on the condition that they be brought inside if the temperature falls below 32 degrees, but things won’t be finalized until January 21 when everybody heads back to court and the owner answers to the charge of not providing adequate shelter – which comes with a maximum fine of a whopping $100.
Unfortunately, while the case in Sprakers isn’t unique, it did help highlight the need for more comprehensive laws regarding what is and isn’t acceptable care at the hands of commercial breeders who barely meet the minimums. While many continue to argue that dogs love winter and can live outside, extreme cold is just as dangerous for them as extreme heat, especially for small dogs and puppies, and they’re all still vulnerable to the risks of being left outside in freezing temperatures, including hypothermia and frostbite.
The good news is Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed A.740a, dubbed the puppy mill bill, which will help crack down on large-scale commercial breeders in the state by granting counties and municipalities the ability to enact tougher regulations than the ones that exist at the state level to protect dogs raised in puppy mills.
“The legislation announced today is a win for those individuals and communities across the state that have fought for the health and safety of animals under the care of pet dealers,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “While existing state law will be upheld, today’s legislation will give support to the many local municipalities that want to ensure stronger safeguards are in place to protect the animals in their communities.”
The bill was sponsored by Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal (D-New York) and Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), and was passed by the legislature six months ago. A spokesman for the governor said the case in Sprakers didn’t have anything to do with Cuomo’s last minute signature, but it probably didn’t hurt.
The case in Sprakers, however, did inspire other lawmakers to step up and announce they will be taking further action on the issue. State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R – Glenville), who co-sponsored the puppy mill bill, and Sen. Greg Ball (R – Paterson) announced they will be introducing another bill that will make the penalties for not providing adequate shelter even more harsh, with jail time and higher fines.
“We’re going to call for a felony for somebody who doesn’t provide appropriate shelter, water, and food,” Tedisco told NewsChannel 13. “Not a misdemeanor. Not a violation.”
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