A number of animal advocates from across the state came to Tuesday evening's council meeting to urge the governing body to move on a proposed town-wide ban of stores that sell puppies.
The proposal, first put forth by Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, would prevent establishments from selling more than 10 dogs or cats per year.
"We need to protect and speak for the voiceless," said Jody Davis of Freehold, who came to this week's meeting. "The conditions in puppy stores are often painful and uncomfortable for the animals."
A subcommittee of three council members – Susan Lydecker, Domenick Brando and Dan Toth – is now researching the issue.
Some people expressed concerns that the effort to ban puppy stores – which are often registered as kennels rather than pet stores – could preclude local, small breeders from selling puppies as well.
Additionally, there has been some concern over an option to refuse to grandfather in the one remaining business – Breeders Association of America, Inc. – already selling puppies in town.
Toth said a previous effort to shut out a business – an adult book store on Chambers Bridge Road – resulted in litigation.
"The township was trying to be progressive and satisfy the wants of the community … however legally operating within the confines of the law, government had no right to be putting them out of business," said Toth.
"If we do an ordinance of this nature, we have to make sure it is tailored properly."
Acropolis urged the council to work with the township attorney to come up with an ordinance soon, perhaps splitting ordinances that deal with stores versus small breeders.
"From talking to the township attorney, we may be able to split those, and get something done sooner," he said.
The 'puppy store' issue came to light after one such store, Puppies Galore, was shut down by authorities in January. The store has since lost its license and the puppies – nearly all of which were sick at the time they were removed from the Hooper Avenue storefront – have been surrendered by the owner, Maria De Santis.
A criminal animal cruelty case against De Santis and store manager Nathan 'Nat' Sladkin is currently moving through the legal system.
Animal advocates charge that stores that sell puppies often purchase dogs from so-called "puppy mills" where animals are used solely for breeding and housed in inhumane conditions.