Additional reporting by Samantha Maldonado
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed into law a bill that will ban the sale of dogs, cats and bunnies by retail operations starting next December.
Animal welfare advocates applauded the new law they say will eliminate the market for unscrupulous commercial breeders that have provided pet stores with living merchandise in bulk but don’t provide their animals adequate food or care.
But the mood was very different inside of Astoria Pets, where a small golden puppy lay asleep atop a bed of shredded paper inside a glass case facing Astoria’s bustling Steinway Street — its body curled and its head tucked into its tail.
George Flanagan, who has worked at Astoria Pets for 22 years and grew up on a farm, said they had been expecting the ban for a few months now, and have been devising a back-up plan in preparation.
“It’s heartbreaking, I put my life into this place,” the 47-year-old said in a soft and deflated voice as he stood next to twin golden retrievers eager to greet every passerby. “They’re all my little babies, they’re my little monsters.”
Not all pet shops are untrustworthy operations sourced from “bad places,” Flanagan said, pointing to a teal-colored bible he keeps on the counter as a reminder to not be “dishonest.”
He noted that lawmakers have taken steps to protect pets over the years, without closing stores like his. The Animal Welfare Act, for example, requires that pet shops source from USDA-licensed breeders; another regulation requires microchipping pet shop animals.
“We followed the law, and there were places that didn’t want to follow the law — and they closed, because they were doing shady stuff,” Flanagan added. “We complied, and we still got cracked down.”
Giant Dogs and Tiny Windows
Advocates of the new law, however, said that it was long overdue.
“New York State will no longer allow brutally inhumane puppy mills around the country to supply our pet stores and earn a profit off animal cruelty and unsuspecting consumers,” Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
Under the new law, pet stores will be able to use their display space to showcase pets up for adoption, but Flanagan said he’s skeptical that pet shops and adoption services will follow through.
“Nobody’s gonna do that,” he said. “No one wants to see a gigantic dog in a little tiny window.”
Chirstina Dillemuth, who has worked at a dog daycare near Astoria Pets for seven years, holds a license from the city for animal care and handling and once resuscitated a cat with CPR, was in the store Thursday to help her sister scout out puppies for her son. She said she has her doubts about the new law.
“I think it’s not fair because all the animals — they need a home,” Dillemuth said. “It would be wrong just to abandon them or just put them in a pound. In some of these shelters, they do have a thing where they like to euthanize them and I am against abuse.”
In the meantime, as Astoria Pets face the possibility of closure, Flanagan meditated on what the pets he’s worked with for the past two decades have taught him about unconditional love — and on the future of the business. After all, its affiliate, Gabby Pets, had been one of the businesses approved for a marijuana dispensary license last month.
“We won’t be able to change people’s lives for the better anymore, in a positive way,” Flanagan said. “But we’re gonna make moves — until they outlaw that shit as well.”