Pet shop violations in Union County a result of stricter statewide rules

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Stricter, statewide consumer protection laws in the pet industry have led to a rash of potential violations being pursued by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, including at two dog shops in Union County.

Shake a Paw in Union received a letter requesting their presence at an executive conference, while Whiteway Pet Shop in Elizabeth was offered a civil penalty of $2,500 provided they “correct the incidentals which came into play,” as store owner Bruce Watts put it, adding that he expects to do so in the near future.

A 2015 amendment to the The Pet Purchase Protection Act requires pet shops to incorporate more information on animal cages than before, such as the name and address of the breeder. Some violations cited in the report include failing to label cages with animal breeding histories, medical backgrounds or other details which were made mandatory.

“It’s about informing the consumer, which I know I don’t have a problem with. Nobody in the industry has a problem with that,” said Watts, who has run Whiteway Pet Shop for the past 41 years. “Some of the stuff — it may be needed, but I think it could have been addressed a little bit differently. When the public hears about violations in the pet industry, it takes on a whole different connotation. Usually, it’s concerning the animals and the quality of care, and this is really not about that.”

Almost all of the violations at Whiteway Pet Shop concerned the signage on cages, said Watts.
One such inspected cage, which held a puppy recently brought in and not yet for sale, lacked information about the animal’s history. Many of the store’s other 18 violations were for putting the dog’s date of birth — and not their age — on the cage.

“There were some new requirements that came into effect recently, and some of them are rather redundant,” said Watts. “Things like, for the date of birth on the dogs, now I need to put on the actual age of the dog every day, in days,” instead of just listing the date of birth on the cage, “which is rather redundant.”

Another issue cited, according to Watts, was the absence of “Know Your Rights” forms by the dog cages, which were only available by the register. Like the name suggests, “Know Your Rights” forms are meant to notify customers of their rights when purchasing an animal, like telling them that the animal should have been examined by a vet within five days of being offered for sale.

But while it’s common for negative attention to swirl around the pet industry during and after the holiday season, said Watts, the Division of Consumer Affairs report shouldn’t add any more fuel to the fire.

At most shops, like his — which has been in Elizabeth since 1926 — it’s more about technicalities, than anything else.

“If we were doing something where we were selling animals who weren’t healthy, I doubt I’d still be here for all of these years,” said Watts. “We’re probably one of the longest surviving pet shops in the state. I buy all of my puppies from one supplier, who’s a smaller supplier. He delivers the dogs himself in a small, rigged-out vehicle, and I refuse to deal with any of the bigger distributors, because I don’t know what I’m getting.”

That’s a sentiment which Jeffrey Morton, president of Shake A Paw, the largest pet shop in the state, agreed on.
While New Jersey passed “the toughest pet store regulations in the United States in 2015,” Shake a Paw will attend their executive conference meeting with the Division of Consumer Affairs — not all that different from what he does on a regular basis, says Morton — and look to comply with changing administrative rules.

“It’s important to know that the violations are purely administrative in nature, and have no reflection on the care and well-being of our pets. Shake a Paw is committed to providing our customers with full transparency and with fully complying with the New Jersey Pet Protection Act,” said Morton, who highlighted the store’s commitment to its no-kill shelter. “The Shake A Paw Center for Rescue and Adoption has been providing animal rescue and rehoming for homeless and unwanted dogs for over three years, finding forever homes for over 600 adult dogs.”

Including another branch of Shake a Paw in Green Brook, 26 pet shops around New Jersey were cited for violations in the report, and owe a maximum of $409,000 in civil penalties. If all of the cited businesses were to comply with Pet Purchase Act regulations and settle for the minimum civil penalty offered, the amount owed would be less than $150,000.

At executive conferences being hosted by the Division of Consumer Affairs, like the one Shake a Paw will be expected to appear at, pet store owners can discuss inspection violations, coordinate a compliance plan, and work out a civil penalty, according to the report.

“Information required by the Pet Purchase Protection Act is crucial to consumers who want to know that the pets they bring into their homes were bred under healthy conditions that comply with the required standards of care,” said Steve Lee, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Division is committed to ensuring that these facts are readily available to consumers, as the law requires.”