NJ pet store license revoked, MD weighs pet shop consumer bills

A New Jersey township has revoked the license of a pet store that sold illegally trafficked puppies from Pennsylvania - and may permanently ban the sale of puppies as a result.

Brick Township took  action against Puppies Galore after a slew of consumer complaints led to a investigation by the county health department and the seizure of 35 puppies - most of them sick - from Pennsylvania breeders.

A total of 42 cruelty charges are pending against the pet shop owner Maria DeSantis (38 counts) and manager Nat Sladkin (4 counts).

Sladkin, who has operated several pet stores in New Jersey, has a decades-long history of consumer complaints about the sale of sick puppies. 

A 1995 report in the Inquirer detailed Sladkin's legal scuffles resulting in settlements totaling tens of thousands with the state of New Jersey and scores of customers.

In interviews, including one with the Wall Street Journal, Sladkin blamed customers for their dogs' illnesses and blamed humane societies and veterinarians for maligning the reputation of pet stores.

He called people protesting conditions in his store, Pet Depot, "a bunch of vegetarians who need mental help."

Neither Sladkin nor DeSantis had a valid out-of-state dealer's license required to import Pennsylvania puppies. A Pennsylvania veterinarian identified by health officials as "JW Sellers" signed the health certificates. Investigators say that 26 of the 39 dogs removed were ill with diseases including kennel cough, pneumonia and parasites.

Conditions at the store so incensed Brick Mayor Stephen Acropolis he proposed enacting a ban on new stores that sell dogs or cats. The plan has the support of the Democratic majority on the council, according to news reports.

“I was appalled at the condition of the store and the animals,” Acropolis told the Asbury Park Press. “The owners have a responsibility to maintain a healthy environment for the puppies, and they were obviously ignoring that responsibility. I am glad that the puppies are getting the care they need and are no longer being hurt by the store’s owners.”

In other pet shop news, Wentz Canine, the Lehigh County store featured in the landmark Oprah Winfrey episode on puppy mills, has closed. In 2008 an investigative reporting team traced sick puppies sold at the Fogelsville store to Pennsylvania puppy mills.

Meanwhile, the Maryland General Assembly is considering several consumer protection measures aimed at pet sales. A bill under consideration would require pet stores to post information on cages about where animals were born it also would require a warranty on pets bought in pet stores.

(Pennsylvania has a "warranty" known as the Puppy Lemon Law, but it is widely considered to be weak, riddled with loopholes and, advocates charge, often unenforced.)

Another Maryland bill would will allow judges to order those convicted of animal cruelty to pay the costs of caring for the animals during the trial. Animal advocates also want to create a registry of animal abusers. (Hat tip/Ohmidog)