Business & Finance

Caldwell Council Tables Controversial Pet Store Regulation Ordinance for Clarifications

The Caldwell Borough Council listens to arguments about proposed pet store regulations.
The Caldwell Borough Council listens to arguments about proposed pet store regulations. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

CALDWELL, NJ—An ordinance that would have allowed greater borough regulation of retail pet stores, especially those selling dogs, was tabled by the Caldwell Borough Council on Tuesday because borough attorney Greg Mascera said the measure needed an “overhaul” based on comments from local health officials.

However, prior to the vote on tabling the proposal, both proponents of greater regulation and those opposed to it presented lengthy cases to support their arguments.

First to speak was Jeffrey Morton of Freehold, owner of Shake A Paw pet centers and Shake A Paw Center for Rescue and Adoption, and a member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which he called the pet industry’s advocate for responsible pet ownership.

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Morton said the proposed ordinance would require Caldwell pet-store owners to obtain animals only from shelters and pet rescues, which he said would “completely change the industry’s distribution channel.” He added that the Bloomfield Animal Shelter, from which the Caldwell stores would obtain their dogs under the proposal, would not be providing specific breeds, would not guarantee breeds would be allergy free for children and would not necessarily guarantee “family-friendly pets.”

He also said that the proposed ordinance would require the Bloomfield Animal Shelter, with which Caldwell is contracted, or other shelters that would supply stores in the borough to become “USDA licensed Class B dealers,” with dogs sourced only from New Jersey shelters.

This, Morton claimed, would mean the dogs could be sourced “from anywhere or anyone”—possibly from the same puppy mills the borough is trying to legislate. He added that one New Jersey shelter last year imported approximately 4,000 animals from such areas as Turkey and Korea, with a small amount of animals supplied by homeowners or picked up by animal control.

The pet-store advocate said the proposed ordinance would not close a single substandard breeder or “save or re-home a single New Jersey animal.” 

He said New Jersey pet stores are “the most highly regulated source of companion animals in the United States,” and that it is “already illegal for New Jersey pet stores to purchase a dog from a puppy mill.” He added that pet stores are required to provide detailed information on a dog’s breeder and even the distributor.

Morton also said the stores are required to have detailed USDA inspection reports available for view and regulated by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Pet store puppies must be also be “examined by a licensed New Jersey vet every 14 days,” he said.

He said a shelter only has to have its pets examined by a vet once a year, and wanted to know “why we would replace a transparent business model” with the “unregulated” business model of sourcing from shelters.

Morton noted that, contrary to Humane Society of the United States claims, sourcing strictly from shelters was not a successful business model. This, he said, was evidenced by Pat’s Pups of Cherry Hill, which was forced to become a shelter-sourced-only store after a number of animal rights demonstrations and threats, but went out of business in 2015 when no New Jersey shelters could provide it with a single animal.

The store began importing dogs from Kentucky, Georgia and Puerto Rico, the pet store advocate said, and discovered several dogs with the deadly Parvovirus and multiple animals died. Also, he noted, false health certificates were reportedly used to transport the dogs.

“To my knowledge, not a single New Jersey dog was re-homed and not a single breeder was closed,” he said.

He added that neither the ASPCA nor the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are “stakeholders;” neither owns or manages a single shelter nor has oversight authority; and neither is helping to re-home animals.

“They are simply looking to forward their political agenda,” he said.

A diametrically opposed point of view was expressed by Brian Hackett, New Jersey director of the HSUS.

Hackett said HSUS is “the largest, most respected and most effective animal protection organization in the country.”

He noted that his organization works with officials on both sides of the political aisle, in all sizes of organizations and corporations on all types of animal protection measures. He also noted that the HSUS chief executive officer recently wrote a book on promoting business models in the animal protection industry and promotes businesses that are responsible and responsive toward consumers and are also profitable.

Hackett said misinformation is often distributed by his opponents in an attempt to “deceive and confuse.”

He noted that 24 of the 25 largest pet store chains in the country, including PetCo and PetSmart, are not opposed to the proposed Caldwell ordinances or measures like it “anywhere,” or in “any of the 100-plus towns in New Jersey and across the country that have passed this ordinance.”

The HSUS director added that in instances where such ordinances have been legally challenged, they have been upheld in every court.

He said the business model employed by opponents to the measure “is a dying business mode,” not foreseen by the majority of public as being reputable or responsible.

Hackett said responsible pet store owners work with reputable shelters if they want to source pets in their stores because there is “a major difference between responsible breeders and puppy mills that pet stores that do not employ the responsible model that responsible pet stores employ.”

He added that, contrary to Morton’s claim that the HSUS-backed business model cannot supply certain breeds of dogs or hypoalergenic dogs, for example, his organization supports “hundreds of responsible breeders in New Jersey.”

“A responsible breeder would never sell to a pet store because they employ a business model that cares both about the animal and the consumer,” said Hackett. “They are not just trying to pump an animal out to monetize it and that’s finished.”

He noted that a responsible breeder would have the prospective pet owner come to his or her location to “meet them and meet the animal.”

Hacket presented the council with what he said was a 10-page expose on 27 pet stores in New Jersey that were sourcing from “egregious puppy mills with sickening violations of the Animal Welfare Act” only last year.

He called USDA licensing standards for puppy business “bare, minimum standards,” adding that a USDA license does not guarantee a good operation. He said those standards are “mere survival standards, and this report shows that.”

“It is disgusting,” he said. “No one in their right mind would keep their animal according to USDA standards and if you or your neighbor did, you would think they were guilty of animal abuse.”

Hackett claimed that, of 42 pet stores that employed the model advocated by Morton eight-or-nine years ago, only 21 still are in business today. This happened, he said, because people have “gotten wise” to the kind of tactics employed by stores that “have not gotten on the train yet.”

Hackett said the proposed ordinance would say that if a pet store, other than a Pet Smart or Petco, for example, were to open in Caldwell, they could not source from puppy mills. He declared that a pet store that does not source from a shelter or rescue organization sources from a puppy mill.

A puppy mill, he said, is a commercial breeding operation—not a small breeder selling a few dogs face-to-face.

He noted that East Hanover recently shut down Just Pups with 60 dogs bought in from a puppy mill in Missouri. Another was shut down in Brick, he said.

Hackett offered to work with the borough attorney on an ordinance based on a model ordinance upheld by many courts across the country.

Cindy Knolls, the owner of Furrylicious, a pet store in Whitehouse Station, pointed to examples in her own establishment that she said ran contrary to many of the assertions made by Hackett.

Knolls said her town turned down HSUS when it tried to pass its ordinance there, and Assemblymen Jack Ciattarrelli and Kip Bateman both supported Governor Chris Christie’s veto of a legislative proposal to pass a bill containing much of the items HSUS supports.

She repeated Morton’s statement that New Jersey has the strictest animal-protection regulations in the nation, adding that inspection reports by pet-store owners must go back two years and that puppies in pet stores must be inspected by veterinarians every 14 days.

Knolls added that she and her partner only go to USDA-certified breeders and that they certify breeder health credentials before going to them. Also, she said, pet stores are required to keep cards on each cage specifying the name and location of the breeder from which they came as well as the distributor.

If an owner, after owning a puppy for 14 days, finds any health problems, he or she is given such options as returning it to the store for a similar puppy or getting a refund of twice the value of the puppy, the storeowner said. She added that each puppy goes to its new home with a “good health” certificate signed by a licensed vet.

In addition, Knolls noted, her store has such a good reputation that people from other states and as far away as Ontario have come to her store for puppies.

In response to council inquiries, Knolls said her puppies come from 17 locations in Iowa, because she said New Jersey does not a sufficient number of USDA-compliant puppy breeders. She also presented the council with photographs of dogs that came to her stores, where she and her partner talk to breeders with the dogs present. She added that all the dogs were happy and in good health.

However, volunteer animal protection worker Larry Cohen said the majority of puppies in New Jersey pet stores came from large breeders in places such as Arkansas and Missouri.

He cited inspection reports from breeders that reportedly found dogs with open wounds, the presence of feces on dog dishes and teeth missing on animals.

Cohen said supporters of ordinances similar to that proposed in Caldwell wanted to protect the borough from those who sell cats and dogs from breeders who are not reputable.

“We don’t pass laws because people are doing things right,” he said. “We pass them because they are doing something wrong.”

The volunteer added that shelters save animals that some owners do not want.

He said Midwestern breeders from whom many pet stores get their animals force them to live in cramped cages with wire floors and force female dogs into breeding every cycle from the time their cycles begin. He also cited a 2015 article in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine that said it would not recommend the purchase of pets from pet stores.

The bylaws of 95 percent of the local chapters of the American Kennel Club, which he said is largely supported by breeders, prohibits purchase of animals from pet stores, according to Cohen.

The next Caldwell Borough Council meeting will be held on June 20. 

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