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The public health law designed to protect humans should be harnessed to help animals, a South Towns legislator says.

Instead of drafting a new law to crack down on poorly cared-for pet shop animals, Joseph R. Desmond of Eden wants the Public Health Law to protect the pets from abuse at the hands of pet shop and kennel operators.

Research found that the county does not have the power to enact a strict law that he and Legislator Charles M. Swanick of Kenmore had envisioned. But through the human health laws, the county will assist the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in its role as a watchdog for animal abuse, he said.

"In a way, the SPCA will be in a better position to crack down on problems," Desmond said. "The county inspectors will have the power to go in there and find violations the SPCA can follow up on."

The county's three-month-old Pet Shop Task Force will continue to meet, according to Swanick. He said the 12-member panel, which includes representatives of local pet stores, veterinarians and the SPCA, is trying to develop a voluntary set of pet care standards.

Eventually, Swanick said, participating stores and kennels will display a special emblem in their shop windows noting their efforts to provide the highest-quality conditions for their animals.

"We as a county are precluded by state laws from directly regulating pet shops," Swanick said. "But we can get at many of the problems by approaching it from a human health angle."

Tips coming to the county Health Department regarding unsanitary conditions will trigger a visit from health inspectors, the legislators said.

The move to regulate local pet operations was spurred by the discovery of dead and mistreated animals at the former A to Z Pet Store on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo last summer.

Local SPCA officials were stymied in their efforts to rescue the dogs, cats and other pets from squalid, cramped conditions under the state Agriculture and Markets regulations.

"We now have a way to get in the door immediately," Swanick said. "That's what's been missing until now."

County health inspectors now are empowered to check complaints involving excessive excrement in pet cages, excessive waste odor, improper disposal of pet waste, rats, insect infestations, and the improper disposal of medical waste and animal carcasses.

Under Public Health Laws, pet shop operators face closure and fines if they are found in violation of the state health regulations.

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