Proposed Puppy Mill Retail Ban Draws Crowd

At the crowded first meeting of the RTM Rules & Ordinances Committee discussing a proposed town ordinance banning retail puppy mill sales, resident Linda Kowalski (left), Branford All Pets Club co-owner Ed Focault (center), and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council Vice President Charles Sewell (right) ask the committee not to create the law, saying it targets a single, legitimate business in town. Others, including Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission Chair Lori Fogler Nicholson, who proposed the ordinance on behalf of the commission, spoke in favor of such a law.

On July 2, a town committee heard from both sides about creating a new ordinance banning "puppy mill" retail sales in Branford. If approved, the law would be the first of its kind in the state.

Upwards of 200 turned out for the Rules & Ordinances Committee meeting, but only a portion were allowed into the room at Canoe Brook Senior Center, due to space constraints. No decision was made at the conclusion of the discussion, but the panel, made up of Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members, heard plenty of impassioned concerns from those for and against the idea.

Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission Chair Lori Fogler Nicholson said her commission is requesting the new ordinance for Branford. The shelter serves the towns of Branford and North Branford and actively works to ensure successful adoptions of shelter animals.

On July 2, Nicholson gave a presentation that showed that businesses, such as Branford's All Pets Club, may sometimes receive animals from USDA-approved breeders of puppy "crops" in situations in which the animals are bred and raised in conditions meeting the bare minimum for certification.

Nicholson said All Pets Club would receive more business if it stopped selling such live animals and adopted a more "humane" model catering to goods and services for pets and pet owners. She showed a chart indicating live animal sales as the lowest area of profit at stores such as All Pets Club and pointed to a decline in live animal purchases between 2009 and 2010.

"This is not anti-business. We will work with you," said Nicholson, looking out into the crowd at those gathered on one side of the room, including many representing All Pets Club. "We want you to thrive and we will come to your store. We're asking you to please to consider a humane business model?I'll be there, and everybody on this side of the room will come to your store, and you will be rewarded. That's my promise to you."

The committee also heard from Branford resident Linda Kowalski, who noted a state task force will be reviewing substandard animal sales issues in Connecticut, with an eye toward establishing a state-wide policy. Information from the task force will go before legislators in Hartford in early 2014.

In the meantime, "a ban that only affects one pet shop in Branford is not fair," Kowalski told the committee.

As a professional, Kowalski said she has the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) among her clients and brought with her Charles Sewell, an executive vice president of PIJAC, who will also be on the state task force. He said PIJAC represents pet suppliers, manufacturers, breeders, retailers, services, and companies nationwide.

"We have zero tolerance for substandard animal mills," Sewell said, adding the council has been working with the USDA to improve standards.

"What the town of Branford is considering is singling out one company that's a reputable company, that does its due diligence?and putting them out of business. That just doesn't make any sense. You're not solving the problem of puppy mills by putting legitimate businesses out of business," Sewell said.

Sewell added the solution was to instead "raise the bar" to address "a few bad apples."

All Pets Club co-owner Ed Focault also spoke to the committee. Focault described the Branford store, opened in 2006, as the company "flagship." He noted it sold 563 puppies last year, paying $37,000 in state sales tax. Branford All Pets Club also paid just under $40,000 to the town in property real estate taxes last year, said Focault.

He described an exemplary business that adheres to all legal practices and policies in the trade. The Branford store employs more than 40 full- and part-time staff and opens its doors to special events including school tours, seniors, special needs children, and adults who learn about and interact with animals with staff guidance, said Focault. The store also gave Branford Compassion Club two years of rent-free space to help adopt out cats.

Focault said he is an avid animal lover who lost his 14 year-old King Charles cavalier spaniel one week earlier, while also dealing with fallout from the proposed ordinance, making the past week "very emotional" for him.

Focault asked the committee not to create the ordinance, saying, "Your decision will force me to go out of business and possibly even to move out of Branford."

Committee Chair Maggie Bruno said the discussion on the topic would continue within the committee. Bruno also said, due to the numbers showing an interest in the matter, that at least one public hearing would likely be held concerning the ordinance request.

An overflow crowd filled the Canoe Brook Senior Center for the meeting.
An overflow crowd filled the Canoe Brook Senior Center for the meeting.
Lori Fogler Nicholson, chair of Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission, presents information on puppy mills to the RTM committee.
Lori Fogler Nicholson, chair of Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission, presents information on puppy mills to the RTM committee.
All Pets Club co-owner Ed Focault speaks to the committee.
All Pets Club co-owner Ed Focault speaks to the committee.

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