Maplewood restricts sales of dogs, cats from stores

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee unanimously approved on second reading at its Nov. 18 meeting an ordinance that restricts the sale of dogs and cats in town, preventing what animal advocates call “puppy mills.” According to the ordinance, many pet shops get cats and dogs from breeding facilities where they do not receive proper care. The ordinance encourages potential pet owners to adopt from shelters rather than buying animals from a store.

“It’s really important to me to not see any support for puppy mills, and that’s basically what the sale of dogs and cats from small boutique pet shops are doing,” Janine Insabella, a Maplewood resident and pet care provider, said during the public hearing of the ordinance at the meeting. “They overbreed their animals that they keep in horrible conditions and they have a whole host of health issues.”

According to Insabella, contracts signed when a dog or cat is sold at a pet store often benefit the store rather than the animal. There is no protection for owners who purchase a cat or dog with health problems.

“Since these dogs are so overbred, a lot of them end up with congenital health defects,” she said. “A lot of those people are paying thousands of dollars for animals and bringing them home, and the animal dies. These are the kinds of practices that we don’t want to see going on. Passing this bill, at least right here in Maplewood, would be a big step in that direction. We want people to be getting animals from a shelter so that they don’t end up with that.”

Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Nov. 26 that there are no pet stores that sell animals in town; the ordinance is a preventative measure.

“There are no places in town that it would affect now,” DeLuca said. “It’s preventative. We want to send a message that this isn’t OK.”

The committee was approached by Fanwood resident and Union County Legislative Leader for the Humane Society of the United States Larry Cohen at a Talk to the Township Committee event earlier this year to talk about the ordinance. Cohen also spoke at the meeting.

“I just want to thank you for being so open-minded about this and for being willing to do your due diligence,” he said. “Thank you for embracing it.”

Maplewood doesn’t have an animal shelter, but other towns in the surrounding area do and one of the ordinance’s goals is to encourage prospective pet owners to adopt rather than purchase.

“Prohibiting the retail sale of dogs and cats is likely to decrease the demand for dogs and cats bred in pet stores, and is likely to increase demand for animals from animal shelters and rescue organizations,” the ordinance reads.

Members of SOMA for Animals, an animal advocacy group in Maplewood and South Orange that encourages adopting pets, also spoke at the meeting.

“That is the purpose of this ordinance, adopting dogs who do not have homes,” SOMA for Animals member Lauren Kochman said. “There’s a million of those dogs out there. Thank you for considering this.”

Margaret Fogel, another SOMA for Animals volunteer, said shelters are crowded and those pets should be adopted by people who want a cat or dog.

“We’re champions for cats and dogs who need homes,” she said at the meeting. “They’re in foster care, they’re in shelters, and it’s not fair to a pet that is homeless.”