Online Debate Flares Over Columbia Pets for Purchase
A new Columbia pet and accessory store has spurred an online debate over whether pets should be sold in retail establishments.
An outcry by animal activists over pet stores that sell animals has broken out on Columbia Patch.
The activists say selling animals is obsolete and deprives shelter animals of good homes, but pet store owners who have been targeted by activists in other parts of the country defend what they say are honest legitimate businesses.
Charm City Puppies, a purebred dog and high-end pet accessory store that opened this month off Snowden River Parkway, sparked the conversation about pet stores, puppy mills and shelter animals on an article published Dec. 9 about the then-coming business. Nearly 130 comments have been posted — most of them since Saturday.
Animal advocates online said that reputable breeders don’t sell puppies to pet stores, and instead prefer to screen potential buyers to ensure puppies go to good homes.
Pet shops are legal businesses in Howard County and Maryland, and Charm City Puppies operates in a properly zoned retail space, Howard County officials said.
“Maryland is a pretty progressive state and full of animal lovers,” wrote one commenter, Linda Hauser. “I'm hoping [the business] will see the light and consider not selling puppies in the future and show a willingness to work with all the rescue groups who work so diligently to find homes for dogs in their care.”
Charm City co-owner Tony Cossentino declined to be interviewed this week, citing personal safety concerns in the wake of the online criticism.
Multiple attempts to get comments from other pet store owners in the Baltimore metropolitan area for this article were unsuccessful.
Animal rights activists have focused on stores selling pets in other parts of the country as well.
In July, a pet store in Corona Del Mar, CA, came under scrutiny from animal rights activists less than a month after the store opened, according to the Newport Beach Independent.
The activists accused the store of selling a puppy from a puppy mill — an accusation the store's owners disputed.
Co-owner Suzanne Bradford said the treatment her store received at the hands of activists "isn't right," and said she and her two business partners are "running an honest, legitimate business," according to the Independent.
Cossentino told Patch last month that he would depend only on USDA-approved breeders to stock his store.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has policies regarding animal and plant health, said Howard County spokeswoman Alex King, and Cossentino would be required to have a special federal license if he is transporting animals across state lines.
Animal Advocates of Howard County Director Laurie Wallace said many activists are concerned about pet shops because they engage in the selling of living things.
"Getting a pet shouldn't be like going to WalMart to buy a tangible good," she said. "Pets aren't things, they are members of our family."
Patch writer Nikki Gamer visited Charm City Puppies Tuesday.
She found a small, pristine shop with seven puppies and dozens of boutique pet items for sale.
Instead of cages, the puppies were housed in pillowed cribs, and employees were dressed in nurse-like uniforms to give the appearance of a nursery, according to Gamer.
Meet-and-greet areas in the back of the store allow potential customers to interact with puppies.
Some areas of the country ban pet stores. In October, Global Animal, a news magazine about pets, wrote that shopping center developer Macerich said it would ban sales of live animals in more than 70 of its malls nationally, a move designed to “break the puppy mill business.”
According to an editorial in the Rapid City Journal, a newspaper in Minnesota, the move also broke a local business called Fish Here Pet Center, which had sold pets in that area since 1978.
“The policy …. may have been done for reasons that its managers believe are for a good cause — stopping puppy mills — but the policy is chasing away a tenant of 33 years that is not part of the problem Macerich is attempting to prevent,” according to the paper’s editorial board.
The business owners told the paper they didn’t get store animals from puppy mills—rather all came from local families, pets that would otherwise have gone to government shelters and faced euthanasia.
The Howard County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, which must take any animal dropped off, took in 2,400 domestic animals and reptiles in 2010, according to Howard County police spokeswoman Elizabeth Schroen.
In 2010, the shelter took in 2,162 living dogs and cats. Of those, 1,074, or about 50 percent, were euthanized. Those included feral cats and animals with medical and behavior problems. The others were either placed in new homes or returned to their owners.
Fees at the shelter vary and depend on elements such as any medical treatment the animal may have received and whether it needs to be spayed or neutered, according to Schroen.
The Dogs XL Rescue group, a private shelter which specializes in placing larger dogs in new homes, charges $350 for puppies six months and younger; $300 for dogs from six months to seven years of age, and $250 for dogs 7 years and older, according to its website.
Wallace said her organization has been "inundated" with phone calls asking her to “do something” about Charm City Puppies, which, she said, is not her job.
"I certainly hope no harm comes to him," she said of Cossentino. "But I would hope he would take the time to sit down and talk with someone about a different business model to pursue. He could sell supplies and accessories but not the animals and do just fine."
This story has been corrected to reflect that Laurie Wallace is the director of Animal Advocates of Howard County.