Scituate activists would ban commercial puppy sales
Scituate activists would ban commercial puppy sales
SCITUATE - Lilly Putt-Putt is a lovely little dog, a 4-year-old mix of Maltese and Chinese Crested, not much larger than your average house cat, with soft-to-the-touch golden-white fur, inquisitive ears forever perked up, and a curly-cue tail that seldom stops wagging.
She seems the perfect pup, but when nervous or agitated she gives away her questionable antecedents: she runs around in circles, round and round. It's a habit left over from the first eight months of her life, said her owner, Pati de Wardener of Exeter, when the pup was confined to a cage in a Midwest puppy mill, one of the "most horrific" in the country.
"Although Lily still has some behaviors left over from the mill," de Wardener told The Breeze & Observer, "with patience she has become a sweet and comical addition to our canine and human family."
De Wardener was one of about 45 people at a rally last Sunday night, at the gazebo in North Scituate, gathered together to protest what they say are deplorable conditions at puppy mills.
The group wants to see a state-wide ban on the commercial sale of dogs, cats and rabbits. They say many sold at pet stores come from places like puppy mills, where young and newborn animals are confined in cramped cages several together, are often sickly, and exhibit an assortment of behavioral problems. Pets that are not sold end up at animal rescue shelters, which is where Lily Putt-Putt came from, de Wardener said.
Perhaps even worse, activists say, is the fate of mother dogs that are constantly bred, litter after litter, until they can give birth no more and are then disposed of. When a pet store says "show me the money," declare activists, a customer's response should be: "Show me the mommy."
Lily was rescued when 8 months old and de Wardener obtained her through the Internet from an animal shelter because "I know about puppy mills and pet stores," she told the Breeze.
"They are living off the backs of these poor animals stuck in cages. It's horrible, and it makes me cry."
The group that gathered at the gazebo has no formal name, other than Scituate Residents Against the Commercial Sale of Puppies and Kittens, according to Mallory Leipf of Scituate, who organized the rally.
Petitions were circulated at the rally in favor of a commercial ban, in preparation for presentation to the Scituate Town Council at an unspecified date.
The ban would be similar to the one the East Providence City Council adopted June 3, now facing a federal court challenge mounted by Scott Bergantino, owner and operator of The Perfect Puppy with stores in Scituate and East Providence.
The East Providence measure makes it illegal to sell dogs and cats from any commercial business in that city with fines as much as $2,000 per violation.
Bergantino obtained an injunction barring enforcement until his appeal is heard.
Carlos Munoz, Bergantino's son who helps operate the family-owned and family-operated pet stores in both communities, denied the idea that their stores obtain puppies from puppy mills.
Speaking to The Breeze the day after the rally, Munoz said, "I'm against puppy mills."
The Perfect Puppy, Munoz said, obtains its dogs from local breeders - "90 percent of our puppies we go pick up ourselves," he said - and from breeders approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including Hunte Kennel Systems based in Goodwin, Mo.
Activists see Hunte as a major operator of puppy mills nationwide, but Munoz maintained that if that were true, the USDA would close Hunte down.
Munoz said "probably close to 5 percent" of the store's puppies come from Hunte. A total of about 2,000 puppies have been sold at both stores since the Scituate store opened in September, Munoz said, and "maybe 150" of those were from Hunte.
"It's not like we're selling drugs," he added. "Puppies are not illegal."
He estimated that at any one time there are about 100 puppies at both stores waiting to be sold and, if a puppy they sell turns out to be sick, the store will make good on it by taking the pup to a veterinarian and/or taking it back.
"I don't want to bring that into my store," Munoz said of sick puppy mill dogs.
He maintained that activists against puppy mills harass his customers, including a 15-year-old whose mother wanted to sue them, and, any time the store wins a five-star review on the Internet, opponents will post a negative one-star review right after it.
At the rally, the people gathered were adamant in their opposition to pet stores and puppy mills.
According to Leipf, Bergantino has acquired a second location in Scituate, at 1265 Chopmist Hill Road, with a six-month temporary kennel permit to board 25 dogs, but police in a July 1 investigation found 66 dogs in the building. "The police had them removed," Leipf said. "We don't know where they went."
Some at the rally denied the idea that they want to put The Perfect Puppy stores out of business, suggesting there are many products related to dogs and pets such stores still could sell without trafficking in kittens and puppies. They also could sell pets obtained from animal rescue shelters or reputable local breeders, as has happened in other states, activists note.
Donna Rosciti told the crowd that when she was 17 years old she had what she thought was "the best job in the world" working at the former pet store at Lincoln Mall. But she ended up leaving after two years because she could not tolerate the deplorable condition of the dogs trucked in from puppy mills.
She now breeds "show-quality" Pembroke Welsh Corgis (the kind of short-legged dog England's Queen Elizabeth II has), has a lengthy waiting list, and said she thoroughly checks out buyers so "if there is any question, they don't get a dog from me."
She takes responsibility for each dog and its good health "all its life," Rosciti said, "even 10 years later."
Lauren Rotondo, of Scituate, a veterinarian who works at the North Smithfield Animal Hospital, said dogs from puppy mills "are not well socialized" and, like Lily Putt-Putt, will exhibit unusual behavior when agitated, in particular becoming aggressive when afraid.
"I've had owners tell me they're afraid of their own dogs," Rotondo told The Breeze.
Rotondo advised anyone looking for a puppy to ask their veterinarian what type of dog to get and where to get it from, adding that she wished more of her clients would ask her such questions because she is familiar with reputable breeders locally.
Another change activists would like to see is in the state law that requires animal rescue shelters to spay/neuter pets before adoption, but pet stores are exempt.
Stephanie Vaughan, of Scituate, said she was told by a state veterinary paramedic that the exemption is because pet store animals are wanted and rescue animals are not, a point those at the rally strenuously disagreed with.
In fact, "adopt, don't shop," is their motto.
Bans on the commercial sale of dogs and/or cats, and in some cases rabbits, are becoming increasingly prevalent nationwide with, according to one 2014 list on the Internet, 52 ordinances banning the practice enacted since 2006 in communities across the country, including major cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif.
Leipf said California has enacted a statewide ban.