Gary Hager opened his shop Bark Avenue Puppies in June last year, and, within weeks, he had a visit from a
representative of a local animal
“He takes a look around and
starts reeling off the regulations,”
Hager recalled. “‘You better do
this; you better do that.’”
That was followed up by a
visit from an investigator for the
State of New Jersey Attorney
General. But, as ominous as that
sounded, Hager thought every-
thing had gone well because, af-
ter spending two hours looking
around, the investigator told him
his store was “one of the nicest
pet stores I’ve ever been in.”
Bark Avenue is a boutique
store in Red Bank, N.J., that sells
puppies. There generally are 10
pups, and the store specializes
in French, mini and Victorian
bulldogs that are housed in cli-
But then the nightmare began.
Just before Christmas, a 50-
page certified letter arrived
from the State Attorney General’s office charging the store
with multiple violations of New
Jersey consumer laws, which require information to be posted
on the cage of any live dog or
cat for sale. Bark Avenue, the
complaint said, didn’t have the
complete information posted
with all the animals.
“They only found three administrative errors, but because
they were repeated for all the
puppies, it came out to 50 total,”
Before Hager had a chance to
respond, the state put out a press
release on Jan. 4: “NJ Division
of Consumer Affairs Cites Pet
Shops Statewide for Violating
the Pet Purchase Protection Act.”
Bark Avenue was on the list, accused of 50 violations.
Anyone seeing this could be
forgiven for thinking that the
store was keeping animals in horrendous conditions—not simply
slipping up on paperwork.
The mailing from the state
gave Hager two options. The
first was to admit his mistakes
and pay a penalty of $10,000,
and that would be the end of
Or he could contest it. But
the state warned: “Before con-
testing the alleged violations,
have committed 50
[carrying] a $500
penalty for each.
Thus subjecting you
to a maximum pen-
alty of $25,000.”
In other words,
pay $10,000 now—
Hager isn’t about to back
“I’m ready to fight … they are
acting like the mob,” he said. “I
feel like I am being extorted.”
Since the state went public
with the press release, Hager
said the store has been harassed.
“But thank God we have customers who support us,” he said.
In the case of Bark Avenue
Puppies, investigator Patrick
Mullan found 10 occupied “
cages” on his visit, and he listed information that was missing on
One of the things that annoys
Hager the most is that his store is
being lumped in with shab-
ing in puppy
He said the state is using
blunt force and not differentiating between legitimate stores
with animals from reputable
breeders and those that cut corners and buy from puppy mills.
“I’m all for getting rid of
the bad apples,” he said. “But
the activists want to shut everything down. They want to stop
pet stores selling anything but
“All my puppies come from
five-star breeding operations
that anyone would want to do
business with. We list the breeders we deal with. We visit them.
We know about the vets.
“Anyone who likes and loves
animals will find pet stores that
they’d go, ‘Wow!’ and others
that they say, ‘I wish I could shut
this down.’ We should be target-
ing the bad stores that work with
Hager would favor a rule
book for ethical pet stores to
create an industry standard and
distinguish the legitimate play-
ers from those who cut corners.
He is concerned, though, that
politicians know they have support from animal rights activists
who are very vocal.
As a new pet store owner,
Hager described his experience
as a trial by fire.
“I had no idea the battles that were looming or
the amount of opposition,” he said. “If I knew
then what I know now, I
might not have been in so
much of a hurry to go into
“But then I get to go in
and play with these puppies, and that is better
than any therapy!” n
How One State Targets Stores That Sell Pets
One new pet retailer in New Jersey is facing $25,000 in fines
for failing to comply with a paperwork requirement.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council in Washington, D.C., monitors legislation
across the country that impacts the sale and ownership of pets. President and CEO
Mike Bober said that so far 130 bills have been adopted in the U.S.—about half
of which outright ban the sale of live animals, while others impose restrictions.
Tangling retailers up in regulation can be as damaging as an outright ban if it makes
compliance more of a headache than it is worth.
The new Pet Purchase Protection Act in New Jersey, which is focused on
providing consumers with information, is “the first place we have seen this come
about,” Bober said.
Bober traveled to New Jersey to meet with the Department of Consumer
Affairs as well as representatives of the Attorney General and Governor’s offices. He
doesn’t have a problem with the new law as much as with its implementation.
“We recognize the value of transparency,” he said. “Our goal is to be a partner
in responsible pet ownership.”
His complaint to the state is that “there was very little effort to communicate the
requirements of the bill. That’s indicative of a desire to bring in fines rather than have
compliance. The division was given an opportunity here to raise revenue at a low cost.”
Bober is pushing the state to reach out to pet retailers and better explain the
“The way the details of the new regulations were communicated was absolutely inappropriate,” he said. “The problem we have is when well-intentioned laws go
“I’m ready to fight … they are acting like the mob,” said Gary Hager, owner
of Bark Avenue Puppies in Red Bank, N.J. “I feel like I am being extorted.”
The Pet Purchase Protection Act, which became law in June
2015, requires stores selling dogs and cats to have clearly
displayed information about each animal’s age, its breeder,
USDA inspection reports about its breeder, records from
the veterinarian caring for the puppy and consumer rights.
On the first business day of 2016, a press
release was circulated by the State of New
Jersey Office of Attorney General accusing
26 pet stores of violating the new Pet
Purchase Protection Act. Not surprisingly,
it made headlines, and the names and
locations of the pet stores were listed. To an
unsuspecting reader, it seemed like a crackdown on inhumane sales of live animals.
But in fact, the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection was alleging
that the stores had failed to display proper
paperwork required by the Pet Purchase
Protection Act, which became law in
June 2015. The new law requires stores
selling dogs and cats to provide clearly
displayed information about each animal’s
age, its breeder, USDA inspection reports
about the breeder, veterinary records and
What’s more, when the press release
was issued, the stores had only just been
informed that inspectors had found violations and were still within the time frame
allowed for response.
Store owners could admit fault, pay a
civil penalty and correct the violations, or
contest it and face penalties of more than
double. Because there is a penalty for
every single missing piece of information
on each animal, the amount the stores
must pay the state quickly multiplies.
But in the current climate against
sales of live animals, a public accusation
is damaging enough. For one of the stores,
which had been in business for just six
months, the state’s action came hard on
the heels of opposition it already was facing
from anti-live-sale activists.