Update: Jan. 23, 9:08 a.m.: The protest has been postponed until next Saturday, Jan. 30.
MOHEGAN LAKE, N.Y. - Claiming at least one animal at the pet store has been mistreated, a group of concerned residents has planned a “peaceful protest” outside of American Breeders in Mohegan Lake this Saturday (weather permitting).
The protest and allegations of neglect both originated from Facebook, where more than 1,800 people have now joined a group calling for the closure of the store. Last Tuesday, a Facebook user posted that a Neapolitan mastiff puppy in the store was suffering from an eyelid protrusion (“cherry eye”). The woman who observed the eye condition claims she was asked to leave by an employee after attempting to video what she says were poor conditions at the store.
The Facebook post, containing pictures of the female puppy with the alleged irritated eye, was shared almost 3,000 times, and an animal rescue group intervened later that day. Courtney Bellew, director of Special Needs Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation (SNARR) Northeast, said a member of her organization purchased the puppy from the store for $1,000.
“I hate having to pay for a dog, but we felt that getting her out of there was worth the money that we had,” Bellew told Yorktown News.
The five-month-old puppy, renamed Reya, received medication and met with a veterinarian Friday, Jan. 15, Bellew said. The vet reportedly told Bellew that the puppy’s eyes were “a mess” and would require additional surgery to correct the cherry eye, which she had Monday. According a report provided by Dr. Tomas Infernuso, who peformed the surgery, a “large amount of scar tissue was present and removed.” Reya will stay in a foster home on Long Island until she is available for adoption, Bellew said.
Richard Doyle, the owner of American Breeders, told Yorktown News that the puppy required no additional treatment when it was purchased. According to documents provided by Doyle, the puppy twice had surgery performed by Baldwin Place Animal Hospital to remedy the cherry eye—once on Dec. 14 (left eye) and again on Dec. 22 (right eye).
The puppy was re-examined on Dec. 31, when it was reported that “the surgical sites were healing well and the third eye lid glands were intact and in place.”
“The puppy is fit for sale as of Dec. 31, 2015,” according to a letter prepared by Baldwin Place Animal Hospital. Doyle said the animal hospital examined the mastiff again on Jan. 11 and determined that it was in good health.
Dr. Robert Haims of Baldwin Animal Hospital, who signed off on the paperwork, did not reply to a phone call by press time.
Additionally, on Jan. 14, two days after the viral Facebook post, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets inspected American Breeders and determined the store was “in compliance” with all state regulations. Doyle said the police and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
“I don’t know if you can do better than that,” he said. “People are crazy. They’re insane. You looked at the evidence. This is what the Department of [Agriculture] looks at. This is what the ASPCA looks at. They don’t go by social media. This is like a mountain out of a mole hill. They want to crucify me.”
Bellew, however, said standards set forth by the Department of Agriculture and Markets are too low.
“’In compliance’ isn’t much,” she said.
She also maintains that the mastiff puppy was not properly treated, saying the surgeries may have been botched. At minimum, Bellew said, the dog did not receive proper post-operation treatment.
“The pictures speak for themselves,” she said. “How do you look at that dog and not think she’s uncomfortable?”
Many on Facebook also believe the dog did not receive proper treatment, and the allegations have sparked outrage about American Breeders. Many have cited the criminal charges against Doyle in Connecticut as proof of his mistreatment of animals.
Doyle said he has already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion—or, in this case, the court of social media—but the pet store owner denies ever mistreating animals and said he will be found innocent of all criminal charges against him.
“I’m starting to fight back,” Doyle said inside his Mohegan Lake store. “I’ve never talked to any reporters before, but I’ve had it. I’m done. I’m not doing anything wrong...They’re writing stuff that isn’t true. They’re lying.”
In addition to being called a “monster,” “criminal” and “pure evil” on social media, among other labels, Doyle said he has received death threats and has people taking photos outside of his home in Mahopac. He said his five children—two in high school and three in college—are also being “harassed.”
“I have death threats,” Doyle said. “I have people taking drive-by photos of my house. My kids are getting harassed at school. This has gone way out of line.”
Doyle said he owned four pet stores but has recently sold his locations in Wappingers Falls, Mamaroneck and Danbury, Conn. He said animal activists won’t stop until his Mohegan Lake store is closed, as well.
“I’m providing a service,” Doyle said. “Do you see these people (customers) in here? It’s a needed service that eventually won’t be here anymore because of social media animal activists.”
Doyle said caring after live animals is “the most difficult job a person can have.” As of last Thursday, there were 45 puppies and four kittens in his store. He said all of his animals are purchased from licensed USDA inspected dog breeders.
“People have their preconceived notion of what this business is, and it’s nothing like what they think it is,” he said. “This is a difficult business. We have puppies that can get sick; we have puppies that I’ll take to the vet and they’ll be dead in two days.”
Doyle was referring to the criminal charges currently pending against him in Connecticut. He pleaded not guilty to three counts of animal cruelty on Jan. 7 and will appear again in Danbury Superior Court on Jan. 25.
“I’m not guilty of anything,” he said, “And I’m going to be found not guilty.”
Doyle was arrested in July 2015 following a four-month investigation by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. That investigation began when a female employee reported animals were being mistreated. The employee, who provided investigators with photographs allegedly documenting the poor conditions of his store, said Doyle called on her to treat animals with medication and administer shots even though she was not licensed.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture accused Doyle of allegedly performing surgery on a Neapolitan mastiff’s inner eyelid, also despite not being licensed to do so. Doyle, however, said he has never performed surgery on an animal.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” Doyle said.
The other two cruelty charges stem from his alleged failure to properly provide veterinary care for an ill Shih-Tzu puppy and an ill exotic kitten—both animals had to be euthanized. Doyle said the dog was suffering from parvo, a treatable but sometimes fatal virus.
“We brought that dog to the vet, the vet treated it for two days, and he felt it had parvo, so he euthanized it,” Doyle said. “I didn’t make that decision. I didn’t cause the dog to have a virus.”
He shared a similar story about the euthanized cat, which he said was suffering from feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)—a fatal, incurable disease, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center.
“The vet examined that cat and the vet put that cat in the backroom of the pet store, where we have isolation rooms,” Doyle said. “We have isolation rooms, required by law; if an animal doesn’t look right, it goes in the isolation room. The vet put it there. I didn’t put it there and deny it anything. But, we took it to the vet and the vet decided to euthanize it. I didn’t cause the kitten to get FIP.”
Doyle said pets dying is an unfortunate part of the business.
“There’s all sorts of things that happen to live animals and here’s the biggest kicker—not all animals are going to survive,” he said. “These are live animals. I didn’t create parvo; I didn’t create distemper, either. But when it happens, and I guarantee it, I’ll refund your money and pay the vet bill. That’s the bottom line.”
Bellew said Doyle is correct, in that when dealing with a large number of animals, some are bound to be sick. However, she said Doyle should be doing all he can to save these animals.
“If SNARR Northeast, as a non-profit rescue group that begs for every dollar, gives our dogs the best of the best care, Bellew said, “Then he, who is profiting [significantly on every] dog, should be able to do the same for the animals he takes into his ‘care.’ We never euthanize a dog due to cost; the only time we euthanize is if an animal is suffering with no chance of recovery.”
Doyle said he and other New York pet store owners are required by the “Pet Lemon Law” to pay for all medical expenses within the first 14 days of purchase.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to have a sick dog,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for me not to treat the dog. It doesn’t make sense—it’s not in anyone’s best interest for me to sell a dog that’s sick because I have to pay the vet bill. There’s a built in system already in place that protects the puppies, protects me and protects the owners.”
In addition to the animal cruelty charges, Doyle is also facing two counts of witness tampering. Doyle said he could not talk about the charges, but said his employees “are like daughters to me.”
“My employees are great; they love what they do,” he said. “Every one of them will tell you they’ve never seen anyone better than me taking care of pets.”
During the interview at his Mohegan Lake store, two of Doyle’s employees passionately defended their boss, saying he has done nothing wrong.
A customer overhearing the interview also spoke favorably of the store. He said the situation with the mastiff was “blown out of proportion.”
“I’ve been here numerous times and I’ve never seen anything,” said the customer, who did not want to share his name. “I guarantee you can go up and down to every one of these cages and you won’t see one piece of dog [poop] in any of these cages. I come here with my boys every other Saturday.”
Another customer also approached Doyle during the interview and asked him about the charges pending against him in Connecticut. She also pressed Doyle about how often he cleans the cages and changes the water. He said he changes the water about 10 times a day and stressed that his Mohegan Lake store has never had a violation.
“My store is a fishbowl,” he said. “All of these pets get love and affection. This is the best that there is. It doesn’t get better than this. You can’t find a better one anywhere, and you won’t be able to find better puppies, either.”
Doyle then told the female customer she would not be allowed back in his store because she was an “animal activist.”
“Every pet store in the nation is under the gun because the animal activists think they know better than the people who take care of pets,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
A described peaceful protest aimed at shutting down American Breeders in Mohegan Lake has been planned for noon, Saturday, Jan. 23. Protestors plan on gathering with “respectful signs” outside of the store, located at 1767 East Main St. Doyle said he doesn’t mind the protest.
“They’re allowed to do whatever they want,” he said. “These people don’t have any facts.”
A petition has also been started on change.org, calling for the closure of American Breeders. As of 5 p.m. Monday, the petition had 4,742 signatures.