MAUREEN MCVEIGH-BERZOK, EDITOR

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Just Pups, a Route 18 pet store that was recently closed due to substandard conditions, poor management and incomplete record-keeping, had its license revoked by unanimous decision at a Special Council Action Meeting of the East Brunswick Township Council Monday night. 

Just Pups had twice been declared quarantined due to illness among the dogs and was subsequently shut down for violations of state and local health code when no remedies were made.

"It was the only choice available. I'll sleep easier tonight," Council President Michael Hughes said.

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The meeting lasted almost three hours, with representatives of state, county and local health and animal safety offices presenting information regarding several inspections, recommendations, and customer complaints about Just Pups. The council meeting room was nearly filled with animal rights supporters, township officials, media representatives, and concerned citizens. 

Although testimony was detailed and extensive, the "buzz" in the room was electric due mostly to the high energy of the animal rights advocates who came to represent their ongoing interest in the proper care of pets in shops and shelters.

Attorney Jean Cipriani represented the Township of East Brunswick and brought forth witnesses to attest to the process by which Just Pups was evaluated and and eventually closed. The council could decide to take no action, to suspend the license, or to revoke the license for Just Pups, which has been closed for the past few weeks.

Attorney Anthony Arturi represented Vincent LoSacco, 50, the owner of Just Pups. He accused the East Brunswick Council of "pre-judging the issue" and called for an end to the licensure proceedings, noting that he intended to seek damages on behalf of LoSacco. Arturi asserted that East Brunswick had not followed proper procedure in the issuance of the recommendation for revocation or suspension of the shop owner's license. He objected to all witnesses and to the procedure itself.

Hughes heard but dismissed Arturo's complaint and let Cipriani proceed to bring forth witnesses attesting to the validity of the findings of the East Brunswick, Middlesex County and New Jersey health departments.

Lester Jones, director of the Middlesex County Health Department, testified that he made a verbal recommendation to township Business Administrator James White (whose last official meeting was tonight) to close Just Pups in the middle of January, following a staff inspection.

East Brunswick's Animal Control Officer JoAnn Lesko described how she responded to a complaint  on Jan. 22 about puppies that were ill and quarantined in-house at Just Pups. From her experience, she knew that "kennel cough" and some other illnesses were common at pet shops, but the number at Just Pups was "very abnormal."  In her report dated Feb. 1, Lesko noted that she observed "42 puppies with kennel cough" at Just Pups. She also observed a German Shepherd pup that was "listless" and "skin and bones." That dog was transferred to a veternarian immediately. The quarantine was then extended to the entire facility.  In the following week, conditions improved, but returned to a poor state soon thereafter.

Greg Laszlo, Chief Registered Environmental Health Specialist for the Middlesex County Health Department, spoke about his having rated the shop as "Unsatisfactory" three times and Conditionally Satisfactory twice as conditions fluctuated over the eight weeks of observation at Just Pups. On Feb. 19, Laszlo and his team discovered the bodies of three dead puppies frozen in a small freezer in a storeroom at the facility.  The dogs were not identified in any way.  The bodies were sent to a state laboratory where one dog was evaluated to have had distemper.  Assertions were made that the entire store was exposed to distemper at some point.

Veternarian Dr. Traci Vogler, who contracts to the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA), noted that her main concern was the cross-contamination of animals at the site, as sick and well pups were observed in the same areas together. At one visit, she and her team administered 33 shots of penicillin to pups in distress.

Linda Frese, an inspector for the New Jersey Department of Health since 1988, spoke of the "numerous deficiencies" at Just Pups that included missing records; lack of veterinary supervision; non-compliance with a disease-control program; inappropriate cleaning materials; incorrect cages for small animals; and insufficient administration of medication. She said that medical decisions were often left to the determinations of the Just Pups staff.  Frese, who has inspected more than 50 pet shops in her career, reminded the audience that the medical "infractions could lead to serious health implications" for both animals and people. The most dangerous aspect of the Just Pups poor record-keeping and adherance to rules was the "non-compliance with the disease-control program" at the East Brunswick store.

The attorney for LoSacco brought forth no evidence or experts to present a case for Just Pups. He relied mostly on questioning the procedures and time tables of the health officials involved in determining the status of the pet shop. Councilman James Wendell, in an effort to give LoSacco a fair hearing, asked why his side had presented no testimony to counter the township's attorney's claims. Failing that, Wendell said, "I will rely on the testimony of the experts presented here."

Councilwoman Denise Contrino asked for a vote on the revocation of the license for Just Pups, which was seconded by Councilwoman Camille Clark. The vote was quick and decisive to disallow Just Pups from re-opening at any time in East Brunswick. The revocation begins tomorrow, though Just Pups is already closed and no dogs are there now. 

Dogs who were left behind were "farmed out" all over the state without complete records or testing for infection for distemper or any other contagious disease that they may have caught while in the shop.

The evening closed with a tearful short speech of gratitude to the East Brunswick Township Council by Lorraine Healy, president and founder of Husky House Rescue in Matawan. Her puppy Gwen, which she purchased at Just Pups, died of distemper after three weeks and $14,000 worth of medical care.