The one remaining puppy sales business in Brick will have to sell rescue dogs only – not those from commercial breeders – if they wish to remain open in town, under an ordinance adopted Tuesday night by the township council.
Dozens of animal advocates came to the meeting to urge the council to expand a puppy sale ban than was first passed in 2012. That ban prohibited new puppy stores from opening, but did not force existing stores to stop the practice. The revised law was introduced after the remaining store, Breeders Association of America, was closed temporarily by the Ocean County Health Department due to reports of many dogs purchased from the business quickly becoming sick, sometimes fatally.
Former customers of Breeders Association from across the Shore area lined up to talk about their experiences with the business, saying they paid thousands of dollars for puppies who had genetic diseases often associated with dogs bred in so-called “puppy mills.” They also said they were pressured to use the store’s own veterinarian, were served with cease and desist notices after speaking negatively about the business on social media, with one woman saying the store filed criminal charges against her after she spilled pills on the floor of the business in frustration after seeing her dog misdiagnosed with a serious illness.
“Five years ago, I bought a chocolate cocker spaniel,” said Judy Burbank, of Toms River. “The night I brought her home, she had huge amounts of puss coming from her eyes. The next morning I called and they didn’t want to hear from me. I brought my dog there and they said, ‘she must have a little cold.’”
The dog, she said, was ultimately diagnosed by another veterinarian with five different congenital eye diseases.
Many who spoke said all business that deal with animals may occasionally see an illness circulate, but the congenital diseases unique to puppy mill dogs beg a stop to the practice of selling these animals.
“If I were to sell sheetrock that was contaminated, if I was to sell flooring that was contaminated, I would not be allowed to operate,” said Alan Braslow, of Cherry Hill. “Certain people in the puppy mill world feel like they are above the law.”
Braslow said his town enacted an ordinance similar to Brick’s which forced a business that previously sold dogs sourced from puppy mills to switch to “rescue retail,” a practice under which rescue dogs are held by the business and sold to customers.
“The store that’s in Cherry Hill is still in business,” said Braslow. “You can succeed as a retail rescue if you play by the rules and do things right. If Breeders goes out of business, it will be because of their mentality and how they go about their business.”
Though she did not object to the content of the ordinance, one resident did question whether the action could spur a lawsuit.
“By limiting what these businesses can do, I feel like we’re going to be subject to lawsuits,” said resident Nan Coll.
In 2012, the council considered expanding the ban on commercial puppy sales to existing businesses – even then, Breeders Association was the only one remaining – but was advised by former township attorney Jean Cipriani against doing so. The current township attorney, Kevin Starkey, said the ordinance met with his approval.
“You are absolutely entitled to take the action you are taking tonight,” Starkey told council members. “This is a legislative decision.”
Janice Fisher, Puppy Mill Awareness Campaign Coordinator for the Friends of Animals United New Jersey, said in other towns, such laws have been successfully implemented without legal issues.
“We’ve gotten over 200 ordinances passed across the country,” said Fisher, of Manasquan. “We have not had one legal challenge to one of our ordinances yet. It does not mean it can’t happen – it could be a first in Brick – but every one of these ordinances have been upheld by the courts.”
The ordinance passed unanimously, leading to cheers from the packed council chambers.