SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Investigators earlier this week dismantled a Scotch Plains puppy mill being illegally run out of a private residence, resulting in more than 130 animals being rescued and transferred to more than a dozen local shelters, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo and Scotch Plains Police Chief Ted Conley jointly announced Wednesday.

Ten fourth-degree criminal charges and four disorderly persons offenses have been filed against Dominick Ciabattari, 60, of Scotch Plains. All the charges are related to failure to properly care for the animals, some of which were pregnant, along with others that have been diagnosed with severe dental injuries, severe dehydration, infection, ocular discharge, and other conditions. Additional charges are anticipated, and specific information about the charges and related Superior Court proceedings will be released as it becomes available, once veterinary records are received.

Members of the Scotch Plains Police Department responded to the home on the corner of Terrill Road and Laurie Court on Monday, after receiving information that the conditions inside were unsafe and unsanitary for humans and animals, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Cronin, who is prosecuting the case. Upon arrival, the officers contacted members of the humane animal treatment subsection of the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit, and the Prosecutor’s Office and members of the UCPO Animal Cruelty Task Force responded to the scene as well.

Sign Up for West Essex Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

In all, investigators recovered a total of 132 animals, ranging in age from newborns to fully grown, breeding-age adults, including approximately two dozen felines, with the remainder being various breeds of dogs. The total also included 71 Chihuahuas, 18 Golden Retrievers, 17 Pomeranians, and 3 Pekingese.

The preliminary investigation has revealed that the pets were kept in unsanitary conditions, many locked in cages around the clock in a loud, stressful environment, with no outdoor activity. There was no indicia of proper vetting or veterinary care or records, and evidence was recovered indicating that unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine was taking place on site.

“We are so grateful for our investigative partners in the Scotch Plains Police Department, under the direction of Chief Conley, the compassionate and dedicated members of our Animal Cruelty Task Force who joined us at the scene, and the 13 animal shelters and rescue organizations that took in the recovered pets, ensuring that they received access to proper care,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Ruotolo.

Interested in Adopting?

Members of the community interested in adopting any of the pets are invited to contact the shelter nearest to them:

New Jersey revised and strengthened its animal cruelty prevention protocols via a bill signed into law in January 2018. The legislation mandated that every county prosecutor establish an animal cruelty task force, to be responsible for animal welfare within the jurisdiction of the county, along with overseeing enforcement of all applicable laws.

The investigation initiated Monday marked the single largest seizure of at-risk animals in Union County since the new protocols went into effect.

“The Humane Society of the United States commends the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the Scotch Plains Police Department for their recent work responding to a puppy mill cruelty situation in the county. Their efficient and compassionate response ensured that 130 animals were brought to safety thanks to collaboration with a network of nearly a dozen animal shelters, which will help rehabilitate and rehome the animals,” said Brian R. Hackett, Director of State Affairs for the New Jersey chapter of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and member of the Union County Animal Cruelty Task Force.

“Through their exemplary efforts, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has established itself as a role model for our state, in how to properly enforce our state’s strong anti-cruelty laws. Large-scale commercial breeding operations, such as the one in Scotch Plains, pose myriad problems for animals, consumers, and our communities. Puppy mills generate pain and suffering for both consumers and animals alike in New Jersey, and around our nation.”

Each police department throughout Union County has an assigned humane law enforcement officer, but any police officer can respond to reports of animal cruelty. If you suspect that an incident or pattern of animal cruelty has taken place or is taking place, contact your local police department and relay as many details as you can, including the location, date, and time, and a description of the people and animals involved.

If you have information specific to this ongoing investigation, please contact Union County Prosecutor’s Office Sgt. Vito Colacitti at (908) 527-4723 or Detective Alex Lopez at (908) 527-4933.

For more information about New Jersey’s animal cruelty laws and how they are applied, go online to https://ucnj.org/prosecutor/animal-cruelty/.

Convictions on third-degree criminal charges can be punishable by up to five years in state prison. These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.