CRANFORD, NJ — Despite Gov. Chris Christie vetoing state legislation in May that would have effectively banned pet stores from selling puppies and kittens, many local municipalities, including Cranford, have decided to act anyway.
Cranford took its first step Tuesday, Sept. 12, by introducing an ordinance that would have it join 110 other New Jersey towns in limiting or prohibiting such animal sales. According to the Humane Society, 250 towns nationwide have passed ordinances similar to the bill Christie rejected.
The Cranford ordinance restricts the retail sale of dogs and cats to those coming from shelters or rescue organizations.
“There is no restriction from buying cat or puppy from reputable hobby breeder. We’re not restricting consumer choice through this ordinance, we are just offering better alternatives for the animals and families that purchase them,” Cranford Commissioner Mary O’Connor said at Sept. 12, committee meeting.
Also included in Cranford’s proposed ordinance is a provision that requires pet stores involved in adoption events to provide records going back up to two years on animals so their origins are known.
Many animal activists attended the committee meeting to speak out on behalf of this ordinance.
The director of the New Jersey branch of the Humane Society, Brian Hackett, was among the speakers.
“Twenty-four out of the 25 largest pet retailers, including Petco and PetSmart, refuse to sell cats and dogs,” he said. “There’s a reason for that. They refuse because they partner with reputable shelters and rescues, many of which are taxpayer funded to help find adoptable animals homes.”
In email, Hackett told LocalSource on Sept. 15 that the issue lies with pet stores claiming they only source from United States Department of Agriculture-certified facilities. However, the USDA has repeatedly asserted that its regulations and standards are minimum requirements.
“These minimal standards allow commercial breeders to keep dogs in cramped, stacked, wire cages for their entire lives, often exposed to extreme temperatures,” he wrote. “Females are bred as early and often as possible. Dogs are not vaccinated against many diseases or provided with regular veterinary care.”
In August 2016, the Humane Society published an investigative report alleging that 29 pet stores in New Jersey were getting their animals from puppy mills. Hackett contended this report had significant impact on New Jersey.
Since that report, Hackett noted that nine stores either shut down, converted to another business model by solely selling services and products or sourced their animals mainly from rescues and shelters. Some of the pet stores that didn’t convert their business model voluntarily closed down.
Commissioner Ann Dooley thanked those who spoke in favor of passing the ordinance.
“You are a beautiful example of what grassroots politics. The dedication, the persistence and the intelligence of which you brought your argument is greatly appreciated,” she said. “Thank you very much for setting a great example for the rest of the population at this very divided time in our country right now.”
Despite several towns nudging toward pet store regulation, many are against it, including Mike Bober, CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, and New Jersey pet store owners Stephanie Earl and Jeff Morton, who hailed Christie for his veto.
“Governor Christie’s veto protected small businesses and New Jersey’s pet-lovers from an overreaching bill,” Bober said. “The local ordinances being debated across the state are an effort to circumvent the wisdom behind the veto, which is why New Jersey’s ethically run pet stores oppose them. PIJAC is proud to stand with these pet stores and all of New Jersey’s pet lovers.”
Furrylicious, co-owned by Earl, and Shake-a-Paw, owned by Morton, have lobbied lawmakers on the state and local levels about business practices at pet stores, as well as New Jersey and federal laws surrounding breeders and pet stores.
In interview with LocalSource on Sept. 18, Earl stated that Cranford’s ordinance is a result of animal rights activists not accounting for the responsible small pet shop owners that sell puppies from reputable dog breeders.
She agrees with the closing of “bad players” such as the pet retail chain “Just Pups,” owned by Vincent LoSacco, who was charged store with more than 400 counts of animal cruelty and neglect in connection with his stores in Paramus and East Brunswick.
However, Earl does not think New Jersey pet stores owners should be beholden to animal rights organizations.
“We have been hearing for years from animal rights activists that no reputable breeder would ever sell to a pet store,” she said. “This comes from political lobbyists, like Brain Hackett from Humane Society, who have no breeding experience or in-depth knowledge of animal-husbandry practices.
“They have never been to one of our breeders, never met one of our breeders, and have never talked to one of our breeders. We are professionals who work with local families to match them with an appropriate companion animal for their lifestyle,” Earl added.
Without Furrylicious marketing puppies and kittens, there is no chance they could compete with national chains such as Petco and PetSmart.
“To suggest that a small boutique such as ours can compete with online retailers and big box stores by selling food and harnesses flies in the face of reality,” Earl added. Brick-and-mortar retail is one of the most challenging businesses there is today. And pet products is one of the largest categories of all internet sales. We are successful because we provide a valuable service to our clients and a desirable product.”
Earl notes that the town of Whitehouse in Hunterdon County, where Furrylicious is located, has been approached about a similar ordinance, but has firmly rejected the effort.
“Our shops are very reputable and welcome in our communities,” she said.