No More Doggies in the Window? N.Y. May Ban Retail Pet Sales

Humane Society of the United States

The little puffs of puppies and kittens frolicking in the pet-store window on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan invariably drew an adoring crowd of passers-by outside the shop. But inside Chelsea Kennel Club, the reality was far less picturesque.

An undercover investigation revealed a business that sold sickened pets, some with eyes crusted shut, bloody feces and high fevers. The store closed in 2017, shortly after the findings were revealed.

But the story of the sick animals continues to play out, in courtrooms — two city agencies sued the shop owners for defrauding customers — and among people who bought pets only to see them die, even after spending thousands of dollars on vet care.

“They are completely irresponsible, toward people, toward animals,” said Bo Guo, who said he fell in love with a Persian kitten he spotted in the window in 2013. A day later, it was hospitalized with an incurable virus. Mr. Guo said he spent about $8,000 in veterinary care to save the cat, Angel, but it died the next year. “From start to finish, they have shown no responsibility to the animals.”

The shop owner, a self-described “pet expert” named Yardena Derraugh, and her husband, William, now face fines that could be in the millions of dollars.

In January, Justice Melissa A. Crane of State Supreme Court in Manhattan granted a default judgment against the Derraughs in a lawsuit brought by the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. The agency had asked the judge to impose $4 million in fines and for the couple to pay over $50,000 restitution to several customers. A hearing to determine damages will be held in April.

Another pending lawsuit against the couple has been filed by the New York State attorney general’s office, which accused the couple of “swindling” customers by hawking ailing dogs.

Animal rights advocates say that the Chelsea Kennel Club saga is an ugly example of why they favor a bill in Albany that would impose a statewide ban on sales of dogs, cats and rabbits from retail stores.

The bill would apply to the 80 or so licensed pet store businesses in the state, not to breeders who sell the animals directly. Just 4 percent of dogs are purchased at pet stores each year, according to a biannual survey by the American Pet Products Association.

If passed, New York would follow states like California, Maryland and Maine, as well as nearly 350 local municipalities countrywide, that have some version of a retail puppy ban, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

ImagePuppies, like this Pomeranian whose infected eyes were nearly stuck shut, were sold by the Chelsea Kennel Club.
Credit…Humane Society of the United States

“A puppy is not a can of Campbell’s soup you buy on a store shelf,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, the Democratic deputy majority leader who reintroduced the bill last month. “They are living things that need to be treated with respect.”

On Monday, the Senate’s newly formed Domestic Animal Welfare Committee plans to hold a vote on the bill, after which, Mr. Gianaris said, he believes it will advance to the chamber floor.

The case highlights one of the ways in which New York has increasingly cracked down on the retail animal trade. In New York City, the sale of pet rabbits has been banned since 2014, and shops can only sell sterilized puppies and kittens from federally licensed breeders.

The law was challenged, but in 2017 a federal appeals court upheld the city’s ban. The state also has in place a so-called pet lemon law that allows buyers to seek recourse like an exchange or a refund if they purchase a pet that is sick or has a congenital defect.

The two-month undercover investigation at Chelsea Kennel Club uncovered many instances where sick dogs were sold. An inspector for the Humane Society of the United States took a position selling dogs at the store.

Each day, the investigator, a veterinary technician who asked that her name be withheld because of her undercover work, wore a hidden camera that captured what she saw: Puppies suffering from eye infections, bronchitis and pneumonia, some still for sale..

“It was horrifying,” the investigator said. “No dog, no animal in general, deserves any of this treatment. There were some nights where I just sat there and I just cried.”

Every week, dozens of puppies arrived via truck every week at the shop, some of them already sick. She learned how Ms. Derraugh, who goes by Dana, treated sick puppies through methods that the consumer protection department, formerly known as the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, described in court papers as “crackpot, back-alley home remedies,” including administering Robitussin.

“It was hard sometimes, to not completely confront her and say, ‘This is absolutely insane’,” said the investigator, who has since left the Humane Society and works at a veterinary practice in Pennsylvania. “If you sound too concerned, then they get suspicious.”

Two undercover shoppers from the Humane Society purchased dogs whose compromised histories were not disclosed; one was a Chihuahua that had been returned for biting, the other, a shiba inu named Gertie, had bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, requiring hundreds of dollars in vet care.

ImageGertie, a shiba inu, was purchased at a pet store as part of an investigation by the Humane Society.
Credit…Lexey Swall for The New York Times

The Derraughs could not be reached for comment; Ms. Derraugh has previously denied the allegations of abuse, at points citing her vegetarianism as proof that she could not harm an animal.

Humane Society of the United States

Animal breeders and pet store owners fear that the attention paid to places like Chelsea Kennel Club may give rise to laws that will limit a prospective pet owner’s options.

Mike Bober, the president and chief executive officer for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said the bill in New York was an “unwise and unproven reaction to well-intended animal health and safety concerns. Sales bans fail to distinguish between those who breed responsibly and those who put profits before pet care,” he said in a statement.

Any change to the law in New York will do little for those who filled Chelsea Kennel Club’s Yelp page with stories of heartbreak. Mr. Guo said he will never own a cat again, and purposely keeps no photos of Angel in his house. “I wouldn’t think to put out a photo of him now,” he said. “It reminds me of a terrible experience.”

Jeffrey E. Singer contributed reporting.

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