The owner and manager of the former Puppies Galore pet shop are set to appear in court this week on animal cruelty charges.
Store owner Maria De Santis, an Old Bridge resident, is facing 38 counts of animal cruelty related to her ownership of the business, which was shut down by authorities in January.
A court appearance has been scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Brick municipal court, court staff told Brick Patch on Monday.
De Santis, along with store manager Nathan "Nat" Sladkin, were both charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty after 39 puppies – 26 of which were found to be sick – were removed from the store they ran in the Town Hall Shoppes plaza near the corner of Brick Boulevard and Hooper Avenue following a complaint from a citizen.
The store had been the recipient of multiple violations in the months prior, and was not operating at the time the dogs were removed. The store's license to operate was permanently revoked by the township council at a hearing in February.
The township has also appointed a special, alternate prosecutor for the Puppies Galore case, since Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis may be called to testify for the prosecution.
"The municipal court judge reached out to the assignment judge for Ocean County," when he heard the mayor could be called as witness, said Township Attorney Jean Cipriani.
A special prosecutor had to be appointed because the mayor appoints the regular prosecutor, which could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"Because of the conflict, we went through a purchase order system so there will not be something the mayor has to sign," said Cipriani.
Prosecutor Bonnie Peterson will be paid $642 per court session, according to a resolution passed by the township council last month.
The mayor said he may be called to testify because he responded to the pet shop the night the puppies were removed.
"I think that I may be called as a witness to say, basically, what I saw that night which was the deplorable shape of the puppies, the store, what have you," Acropolis said.