The owner and manager of a Brick pet store that wasby authorities last month have been charged with a combined total of 42 counts of animal cruelty.
Investigators with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed the charges late last week against Maria De Santis, 57, of Old Bridge, and Nathan "Nat" Sladkin, 71, of Farmingdale. De Santis owned Puppies Galore in the Brick Mall shopping plaza on Hooper Avenue, and Sladkin was the store's manager, authorities said.
DeSantis was charged with 38 counts of animal cruelty and Sladkin was charged with four counts of animal cruelty, according to SPCA Capt. Rick Yocum.
The majority of the criminal charges, Yocum said, were filed for failure to provide necessary sustenance in the form of veterinary care for the puppies. The remaining criminal charges were filed for failure to provide proper shelter and water.
After a complaint was filed with the Ocean County Health Department on Jan. 26, a total of 39 puppies were removed from the store and taken to a number of animal shelters and veterinary hospitals. Nearly all of the puppies were at least mildly ill, authorities said at the time, and four of the dogs were seriously ill.
Each criminal animal cruelty charge is subject to fines up to $1,000 and potential jail time of up to six months. Yocum said the SPCA may still file civil charges in addition to the criminal charges.
"The good news is these puppies were removed from a less than healthy environment," Yocum said.
The Ocean County Health Department had rated Puppies Galore as unsatisfactory, prompting its owner to voluntarily shut down the store before the puppies were removed. That case is still pending and a hearing in municipal court has been set for Feb. 14.
The store itself was empty Monday, and all of the cages, supplies and furniture had been removed.
De Santis and Sladkin are scheduled to appear in court in Brick on the animal cruelty charges on Thursday.
As the legal process continues, all of the puppies will remain at animal shelters and under the care of veterinarians.
"The puppies in our shelter are doing well," said Pat Wallace of the Jersey Shore Animal Center in Brick, where a number of the dogs are staying.
Yocum said the four most seriously ill dogs were taken to NorthStar VETS – a veterinary trauma center in Robbinsville – and all are recovering from pneumonia after receiving several days of treatment.
NJSPCA officers Lt. Thomas Yanisko and Officer Paul Schlossbach took the lead on the case on behalf of the NJSPCA, Yocum said. The store, which had been open for three months, was under investigation by the NJSPCA before the puppies were removed.
"This has been a very collaborative investigation," Yocum said.
Neither De Santis nor Sladkin could be immediately reached for comment.