The Summit Council's effort to pass an ordinance banning any present or future pet store from selling dogs (or cats) is a smart, compassionate, business-savvy, pro-active move. Summit wants to join 137 other New Jersey municipalities in saying its town's values do not include being complicit with a business model that profits from tortured and dead dogs in puppy mills.

Now, when there is no store in town selling dogs, is the perfect time to pass this ordinance. Why leave Summit vulnerable to a situation like East Hanover, which spent over $90,000 in taxpayer money to close down a horrific store, Just Pups.

In just the past three years, seven stores have been shut down by the municipality they operate in because of health code and/or animal cruelty violations. That's a full quarter of the stores that were operating under the puppy-selling model in the state. 

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The pet stores say they don't get their dogs from puppy mills. They said it in California and Maryland before they passed statewide laws banning retail sales of dogs, cats and rabbits. They said it in Boston and Chicago and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and Salt Lake City and Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale and hundreds of other cities across the nation before they passed their ordinances. 

The pet store argument is a ruse. They say their breeders can't be puppy mills because they're licensed by the USDA. Baloney. Puppy mill is a descriptive, not a legal term. Even the USDA admits its licenses are simply permission to operate. Consider these quotes taken directly from USDA inspection reports of breeders that have done business with New Jersey pet stores:

• "In the outdoor enclosure containing 18 dogs, there were 7 with open wounds on the tops of their ears from flies biting them."

• “Three shiba inus heavily infested with ticks/external parasites. The ticks were observed to be concentrated on the face, ears and in between the toes of their feet."

• "At least six of the indoor enclosures containing at least 10 dogs have a buildup of feces in them. The feet of two white dogs were soiled with a brown material."

• "The building used for major surgical procedures is a large storage shed type building. In the middle of the room, there is a large plastic table sitting up on blocks of wood where the licensee states the surgeries are done. Nearly the entire top of the surgical table is dirty and covered and/or stained with dried blood."

• "A 10-year old male Pomeranian was observed excessively salivating. Closer observation revealed the animal did not have any teeth and the jaw bone on the left side was partially missing and detached from the gums, leaving the bone exposed. No health records available.

• "There are three wooden shelters being used by four dogs within the outdoor housing facility that do not contain clean and dry bedding material. There are pieces of carpet soiled with mud and fecal material covering parts of the shelter flooring. The ambient temperature at the time of inspection was recorded at 41.5 degrees."

• "Facility had listed in program of veterinary care the routine method of euthanasia as 'gunshot in the brain at close range.' "

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are scores more. The line between large, commercial dog breeders in the Midwest that treat their animals this way and New Jersey's pet stores is clear as day and straight as an arrow.

Pet supplies and services is a thriving, multi-BILLION dollar industry. Twenty four of the top 25 pet store chains in the nation do not sell dogs. The one that does, Petland, is best known for a bacterial infection originating from its stores which, over the past three years, sickened over 100 people across 17 states, putting a quarter of them in the hospital.

This is not a question of over regulation. One of government's most important jobs is to regulate to protect its citizens and the environment. Think vaping. Think plastic bags. 

This is not a question of restricting choice. There are thousands of dogs available for adoption on petfinder.com within a half-hour drive of Summit, including breed-specific rescues. The New Jersey Federation of Dog Clubs represents 80 different breeds. These people care about where their dogs end up, and would never sell them to a pet store. No responsible dog breeder would.

This is about cruelty and taking local action because federal and state laws have failed miserably at preventing it. The only time the state inspected dog-selling pet stores to see if they were complying with New Jersey law, it found that 26 of the 29 in business at the time were not. And a Humane Society investigative report recently uncovered that 2/3 of them were purchasing puppies from USDA licensed breeders with multiple and severe violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which is against state law.

Your dog, wherever he or she came from, is undoubtedly a cherished member of your family. But are the dogs that end up in your home or mine the only ones who deserve that love and care? Should we, as their protectors and providers, continue to prop up an industry that accepts torture and death as a cost of doing business? Don’t they deserve better from us than being mass-produced under conditions the federal government deems acceptable but you and I would - without hesitation - consider animal cruelty?

Larry Cohen

Union County Legislative Leader (volunteer)

The Humane Society of the United States