By KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE — The owner of Fancy Pups, a local pet store in Avenel that was court-ordered to be shut down in December of 2015, pleaded guilty to municipal charges for health violations levied against him.
Rocco Garrutto, of Bridgewater, appeared in Woodbridge Municipal Court on June 27.
Fancy Pups, located at 1144 St. Georges Ave., was being investigated by the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) for selling sick dogs to the public. The pet store was inspected and found to be in poor condition and well below the standard of care needed.
John Hagerty, director of communications for Woodbridge Township, said the Woodbridge Department of Health concluded its case against Garruto, who pleaded guilty to failure to implement and maintain a disease control program.
“The other five summonses were dismissed,” he said. “There was a $100 fine assessed for this violation, and $2,900 will be paid to Woodbridge Animal Control, through the court, as restitution.”
Additionally, Garruto incurred fines, fees and restitution judgments in the amount of an additional $15,000 from NJSPCA summonses, Hagerty said.
As part of the plea, Garruto will not be allowed to be involved with, own or have any interest in any business having to do with animals for the next 20 years in Woodbridge Township.
Garruto still faces approximately $90,000 in fines from the county Division of Consumer Affairs, Hagerty said.
The court order to shut down the facility stemmed from a routine inspection conducted by the NJSPCA and Woodbridge Animal Control on Dec. 8, 2015.
The inspection revealed a host of unsanitary conditions, which included feces-filled cages with no water for the animals and construction dust and debris floating throughout the store, according to the inspection report.
The owner of the store was given 10 days to address inspection issues and be in compliance.
Upon reinspection for compliance, the Woodbridge Health Department quarantined the store ordering no further animals in or out of the store.
On Dec. 24, the NJSPCA determined the Fancy Pups business was still operating despite the quarantine. The NJSPCA police asked for an emergency court order from Judge Kevin Morse, and he ordered the store to be closed.
On Dec. 27, it was reported to the NJSPCA police that a male employee of Fancy Pups had posted on Facebook the need to adopt three puppies immediately. This transaction was prohibited under the temporary order, NJSPCA officials said.
The three puppies were located later that evening at a car sales lot in Avenel operated by the owner of Fancy Pups. It was observed that there was no water in the cages for the three puppies, according to NJSPCA officials.
All animals, 12 puppies and one kitten, had been surrendered by the pet shop owner to the Woodbridge Animal Control.
Garruto was charged along with two employees, Jennifer Evans and Sean Wostaka, of Metuchen, and Dr. Keith Gordon, veterinarian of record for the store.