Old Bridge takes hard stance on puppy-kitten mills after emotionally charged discussion

Eric Sucar
Some of the many dogs removed by officials with the Monmouth County SPCA and the St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center from a home on Bennett Road in Howell Township on June 3.

OLD BRIDGE – Two things were made clear during the emotionally charged discussion about whether or not the Township of Old Bridge should ban the retail sale of cats and dogs: no one is for puppy mills and everyone wants what is best for cats and dogs.

What is not clear is whether or not the retail sale of cats and dogs is necessary in the fight against puppy mills. The impetus of the discussion has been the proposal of a pet shop, which will carry pet supplies, small animals, reptiles, birds, fish, dogs and cats soon opening in The Shoppes of Old Bridge.

Joseph Gallo appeared before the Township Council with his son Tom Gallo on Jan. 13 to present their soon-to-be family-owned and -operated retail pet center, which they are opening under the franchise Petland Inc.

The Gallo family attended another meeting on Feb. 10 to explain their store and address concerns they have received since their appearance at the council meeting in January.

“We are going to run a good business, we are going to follow the laws and the regulations that are in place,” Gallo said. “We offer to show the breeders, where [the pets] come from, [people] could visit them, [and people] can go online and see them. These are not puppy mills.”

Gallo said the goal in opening their store is to stop puppy mills and empty shelters.

“By not allowing the sale of good dogs that were bred by good breeders, you are encouraging puppy mills,” he said. “People are going all over this country to buy dogs – meeting at rest stops and side of roads – getting dogs that they have no history on.”

The younger Gallo, who will own and manage the store, said their store will have programs to support shelters such as a place for pet adoptions and offering food and adoption incentives.

“We ensure that no dog purchased in the store ends up in a shelter,” he said, noting their store’s lifetime policy will take back a pet and find a new home.

The elder Gallo said their store gets their pets from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed breeders and distributors. He explained that his family visits the breeders and have invited Mayor Owen Henry and council members to join them on future trips. The younger Gallo reported that he flies his drone around breeder properties to make sure there are no secret back door dealings.

“Being USDA is a minimum requirement that we have,” Joseph Gallo said. “We don’t buy from every USDA breeder, just the best ones. Also we don’t buy from USDA breeders with violations.”

One of the breeders the family has visited is Pinnacle Pet in Missouri. Chris Fleming, co-owner of Pinnacle Pet, told the council he works with 200 USDA licensed breeders and tries to provide the necessary transparency needed for pet shop owners and customers. He said he will work with the Gallos to source their pets.

“Nobody likes puppy mills,” he said. “Only way to combat [puppy mills] is with the truth and try to make it as transparent as possible for a consumer and customer to come to a store and see directly where the pet comes from.”

Fleming said they purchased a drone so their customers can see exactly where the pets come from. He said customers can see the pet parents and any veterinarian records.

He said Pinnacle Pet employs 42 employees, including two veterinarians on staff all responsible for caring for dogs, inspecting kennels, making sure a pet leaves the place and gets to their new store with little stress as possible.

“That’s the whole goal so they can find their family as quickly as possible,” Fleming said. “We ensure with all the staff and doctors a health guarantee against any genetics or inheritable issues. We offer a five generation pedigree, track all information to ensure that if there is a genetic issue that pops up that we don’t continue to have that issue with a same breeding pair.”

Animal advocates have noted issues Petland Inc. has had across the country and how a USDA certified label carries no weight.

Collene Wronko, of Spotswood, noted all pets from the recent closed pet shops in East Brunswick and Woodbridge came from licensed USDA breeders.

“The issue here is they can sugar coat it anyway they want,” she said. “A USDA license does not mean you are a reputable breeder.”

Old Bridge resident Shari Wexler said Petland is a horrible company with deceptive business practices and numerous consumer complaints and lawsuits.

“I don’t want that in my town,” she said. “As a voter, taxpayer and constituent please do the right thing.”

The advocates have said they are not against the retail pet center to open; however, they are against the sale of dogs and cats. They have been calling Old Bridge to join their neighboring municipalities in a ban to sell dogs and cats.

Some 140 municipalities in New Jersey have already banned the retail sale of dogs and cats, including neighboring municipalities – North Brunswick, South Brunswick, Carteret, South Amboy, Highland Park, Metuchen, Sayreville, Manasquan, Oceanport, Eatontown, Marlboro, Ocean, Union Beach, Bradley Beach, Manalapan, Brielle, Matawan, Asbury Park, Holmdel, Wall Township and Tinton Falls.

In the end, the Township Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution not banning the sale of cats and dogs, but condemning and urging stricter penalties for the practice of puppy and kitten mils at the meeting on Feb. 10.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, it is estimated 10,000 puppy mills produce more than 2.4 million puppies a year in the United States and the most pet shop dogs and cats come from puppy mills and kitten mills, the resolution states.

Ward 1 Councilman David Merwin said it was clear there were two views on the topic.

“I’m not going to put an outright ban or suggest putting an outright ban on sales [of cats and dogs],” he said noting the owner of the new retail pet center has said they will only buy from reputable breeders. “Who the hell are we to say ‘no’ … they [the other side of the opinion] have really good reasons too.”

The resolution states Old Bridge “does not want to affect a consumer’s ability to obtain a dog or cat of his or her choice directly from a breed-specific rescue organization or a shelter, or from a breeder where the consumer can see directly the conditions in which the dogs or cats are bred, or can confer directly with the breeder concerning those conditions.”

The resolution goes on and states Old Bridge “believes it is in the best interests of the township to enforce reasonable federal, state and county regulations to reduce costs to Old Bridge Township and its residents, protect the citizens of Old Bridge Township who may purchase cats or dogs from a pet shop or other business establishment, help prevent inhumane breeding conditions, promote community awareness of animal welfare, and foster a more humane environment in the township.”