Sick puppies spur New York scrutiny of non-profit rescues

2017-08-27 20:14
Dogs in a cage at a dog shelter in near Bethlehem.  (Musa Al Shaer,  AFP)

Dogs in a cage at a dog shelter in near Bethlehem. (Musa Al Shaer, AFP)

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Albany - When Alexis Kozmon and her husband decided to get a dog for their 6-year-old daughter, they chose to adopt rather than buy from a breeder to teach the child the value of rescuing.

Four weeks later, the puppy the family named Sugar was dying painfully from distemper, and despite $3 000 in veterinary treatments, the only humane option was to put her down. Two of Sugar's siblings met the same fate. Kozmon faulted the volunteer-based rescue that had trucked the puppies from Texas, but when she complained to New York's consumer protection agency, she learned such groups are exempt from oversight.

"There was a loophole," said Kozmon, who lives in Middletown, Connecticut, but adopted from a group in southeastern New York. "There was nothing they could do to follow up or investigate."

Kozmon is among the animal lovers who pushed for a new law to provide state oversight of non-profit pet adoption groups. It cracks down on everything from shoddy health and record-keeping to unscrupulous pet dealers rebranding themselves as non-profit "rescues" and peddling puppies from the same puppy mills adopters seek to avoid.

The law, signed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo this month, puts non-profit shelters and rescues under the same state Agriculture and Markets regulations that cover licensed pet dealers and municipal shelters.

"You have up to 500 non-profit entities under no regulation whatsoever," said Bill Ketzer, a regional official with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The new law requires the organizations to register with the agriculture agency, follow state documentation and vaccination requirements and disclose the number of animals transported annually. It also gives the agency the authority to craft additional regulations.

More than 35 states have some form of regulation of shelters and rescues, ranging from simple registration to standards of care, Ketzer said. Massachusetts lists state-approved organizations online. Connecticut requires anyone bringing a dog into the state for sale or adoption to be registered with the state and have health certificates for each animal.


Ketzer said New York's lack of oversight has spawned a brisk trade in puppies shipped from southern states and overseas to the Northeast, where the local supply has been reduced by aggressive spay-and-neuter programs and bans on pet store puppies supplied by breeders.

The dogs are often sold quickly without adequate veterinary certification to ensure they aren't infected with deadly distemper, parvovirus or rabies. If a dog turns out to be sick, the new owner has little recourse under current regulations.

Michelle Linendoll, of South Glens Falls, is one of several adopters who say their puppies were infected with parvovirus at an upstate New York shelter that receives animals from Georgia, Alabama and other southern states. Her puppy, Tanner, survived, but others died after their owners spent thousands of dollars trying to save them.

"Peanut died in my car on our way to the vet; I held him when he took his last breath," said Sara Butler, who got an 8-week-old boxer mix from the same rescue. "They did try to offer another puppy to take home but after watching Peanut suffer horribly on that last car ride, I couldn't watch it happen to another."

The lack of oversight also threatens human health. In 2013, a puppy that was shipped from Texas to an upstate New York rescue was sold to a Vermont woman. It turned out to have rabies, and 15 people had to undergo rabies shots.

Diane Scuderi, director of PawSafe Animal Rescue, where Kozmon got Sugar, said she's happy to comply with the new legislation. "We're already registered in Connecticut and we're a registered charity in New York," she said. "Giving them the extra information is no problem."

Scuderi disputes Kozmon's complaints about Sugar's health documentation and other issues. She said with her group adopting out nearly 1 000 dogs a year, occasionally a puppy gets sick despite being vaccinated and checked by a vet. "When someone calls and says they have a sick puppy, we'll work with them," she said.

Ketzer said adoption rates for homeless animals have soared and euthanasia rates have plummeted over the decades through the work of well-established shelter and rescue groups, but there are also well-documented cases where not-for-profit rescues have failed to protect animals and adoptive families.

"This new law is the beginning of an attempt to find out who the bad actors are and formulate standards that everyone will have to live by," said Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protective Federation, which represents municipal shelters.

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