An influential lawmaker who has said he plans to run for governor in 2017 wants to outlaw so-called “puppy mills” in New Jersey.

Puppy (burcuys, ThinkStock)

He described “puppy mills” as pet stores that sell puppies and kittens that they obtained from breeders. His announcement came on the heels of the arrest of a pet shop owner in Avenel who was accused of selling sick dogs even though a court had already barred him selling any dogs at all.

“Often times the breeders are unregulated. The health of the animal is uncertain and this is as much a protection for consumers and it is to the thousands of dogs and cats that have to be destroyed every year so rather than go to these breeders who are over-breeding cats and dogs people will be encourage to adopt their pets as I have,” said State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union).

A bill (S-63) Lesniak said he will introduce in the new legislative session in January, would bar the sale of dogs and cats unless the transaction is conducted in person. It would also prohibit pet shops from selling dogs and cats from puppy mills and kitten mills. The sale of pets from animal shelters, pounds, kennels and animal rescue organizations would still be allowed.

“This will put an end to this massive over-breeding of cats and dogs and save those lives and protect the purchasers, the families who want a cat or a dog,” Lesniak said. “They can still buy a pet from a breeder, but it has to be a face-to-face transaction.”

The Humane Society of the United States estimated 10,000 puppy mills in America now produce roughly 2.4 million puppies each year. Lesniak said that's primarily because of the Internet. The so-called "sight unseen" sale of family pets from puppy mills has increased significantly in recent years. According to the state Health Department, an estimated 20,000 dogs and cats are put to death each year in New Jersey.

“I requested this bill over a month ago when I saw Camden County did it and realized this should be done statewide and the Avenel incident just inspired me to make the announcement now so that we can get the ball rolling in the new legislative session as soon as possible,” the senator said.

The HSUS wasted no time applauding Lesniak on his proposed legislation.

“The passage of this bill will ensure that New Jersey residents acquire pets from humane, honest sources, such as shelters, rescues and responsible breeders who already sell their puppies and kittens face-to-face," said HSUS senior state director Kathleen Schatzmann in an emailed statement.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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