Illegal puppy mill in Scotch Plains dismantled; more than 130 animals rescued and given to UC shelters

Photo Courtesy of Union County Prosecutor’s Office
Investigators rescued more than 130 animals on Monday, Feb. 17. The animals were transferred to more than a dozen shelters, many of which are in Union County.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Investigators recently dismantled an illegal Scotch Plains puppy mill run out of a private residence, rescuing more than 130 animals and transferring them to more than a dozen local shelters, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo and Scotch Plains Police Chief Ted Conley jointly announced on Feb. 19.

Ten fourth-degree criminal charges and four disorderly persons offenses have been filed against Dominick Ciabattari, 60, of Scotch Plains. All of the charges relate to his failure to care properly for the animals — some of which were pregnant, others of which have been diagnosed with severe dental injuries, severe dehydration, infection, ocular discharge and other conditions. Additional charges are anticipated once veterinary records are received.

Scotch Plains police officers responded to the home on the corner of Terrill Road and Laurie Court on Feb. 17, after receiving information that the conditions inside were unsafe and unsanitary for humans and animals, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Cronin. Upon arrival, the officers contacted members of the humane animal treatment subsection of the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit. Members of the UCPO Animal Cruelty Task Force responded to the scene as well.

Investigators recovered a total of 132 animals, ranging in age from newborns to fully grown, breeding-age adults, including approximately two dozen felines, 71 Chihuahuas, 18 golden retrievers, 17 Pomeranians, and three Pekingese. The preliminary investigation has revealed that the pets were kept in unsanitary conditions, with many locked in cages around the clock in a loud, stressful environment. The evidence indicates that unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine was taking place on site.

“We are so grateful for our investigative partners in the Scotch Plains Police Department, under the direction of Chief Conley, the compassionate and dedicated members of our Animal Cruelty Task Force who joined us at the scene, and the 13 animal shelters and rescue organizations that took in the recovered pets, ensuring that they received access to proper care,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo.
Members of the community interested in adopting any of the pets are invited to contact the shelter nearest to them:

•Traveling Paws, Cranford: https://www.petfinder.com/member/us/nj/cranford/travelingpaws-nj684/
• Jersey Pits Rescue, Garwood: https://www.jerseypitsrescue.com/
• All Star Pet Rescue, Linden: http://www.allstarpetrescue.com/
•Brendan’s Meadows Rescue, Mountainside; http://brendansmeadows.com
•Plainfield Area Humane Society, Plainfield; https://pahs.org
• Best Friend Dog and Animal Adoption, Scotch Plains: https://www.bfdaaa.com/

New Jersey revised and strengthened its animal cruelty prevention protocols via a bill signed into law in January 2018.
The legislation mandates that every county prosecutor establish an animal cruelty task force, to be responsible for animal welfare within the jurisdiction of the county, along with overseeing enforcement of all applicable laws.

The investigation initiated on Feb. 17 marked the single largest seizure of at-risk animals in Union County since the new protocols went into effect.
“The Humane Society of the United States commends the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the Scotch Plains Police Department for their recent work responding to a puppy mill cruelty situation in the county,” said Brian R. Hackett, director of state affairs for the New Jersey chapter of The Humane Society of the United States and member of the Union County Animal Cruelty Task Force.

“Their efficient and compassionate response ensured that 130 animals were brought to safety thanks to collaboration with a network of nearly a dozen animal shelters, which will help rehabilitate and rehome the animals,” Hackett continued. “Through its exemplary efforts, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has established itself as a role model for our state in how to properly enforce our state’s strong anti-cruelty laws. Large-scale commercial breeding operations, such as the one in Scotch Plains, pose myriad problems for animals, consumers and our communities. Puppy mills generate pain and suffering for both consumers and animals alike in New Jersey, and around our nation.”

Each police department throughout Union County has an assigned humane law enforcement officer, but any police officer can respond to reports of animal cruelty. Any suspicions of animal cruelty should be reported to local police departments.

Reports should include the location, date and time of the incident, as well as a description of the people and animals involved. If you have information specific to this ongoing investigation, contact Union County Prosecutor’s Office Sgt. Vito Colacitti at 908-527-4723 or Detective Alex Lopez at . For more information about New Jersey’s animal cruelty laws and how they are applied, visit https://ucnj.org/prosecutor/animal-cruelty/.

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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