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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 .

The activists say selling animals is obsolete and deprives shelter animals of good homes, but pet store owners who have been targeted by activists in other parts of the country defend what they say are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 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 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.

Linda January 27, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Thank you! I couldn't have said it better myself. We adored this place when we visited shortly after they opened. The puppies were beautiful examples of their breeds and the concept of the cribs is adorable. I'd much prefer to see them in this environment than in cages. The owners and employees were so friendly, well informed and clearly cared about the puppies. I, too, would be terribly afraid for my safety if I were the owner of Charm City Puppies because of the behavior of these so called activists. Extremists are known to do extreme things at times. By the way, I know where the shelters are, I've gone to them and sorry, but I don't want a pit bull, which is all I've seen probably 98% of the time. To each their own on that one. The other 2% have been large dogs, which need more space than I can offer. I've looked into breeders too, but there are none nearby for the breed we've chosen as a good fit for our family-which has nothing to do with pedigree btw- and I'm not willing to purchase a puppy sight unseen that I've never met and have it shipped to me. So what are my options? A beautiful, clean, well maintained store with caring employees that I can visit anytime to meet and play with puppies is a good one to me. Accusations are all I see here. Unless and until you know 100% that all you claim here is the absolute truth, these assumptions are ridiculous. And the folks who won't eat at a restaurant because it's near a puppy store? Really? No, you're not extreme at all!
Dee January 27, 2012 at 12:46 PM
I swore I was going to stop commenting to the uneducated, conspiracy theory people on here. Everyone who commented against this store is not an extremist, so please stop making generalizations. You are forgetting one thing about that cute puppy in the store...the horrible conditions the mothers and fathers have to live in year and year out. The owners of this store have said they get their puppies from Missouri (the puppy mill capital of the world). Chances are very good the puppies' parents are living in horrid conditions and being bred to death. If you don't want a shelter dog, please make sure you can see and visit with the parents of your new puppy. That is the ONLY way to be sure you are not getting a puppy mill dog. I don't think that's an extremist view at all.
randi January 28, 2012 at 04:48 PM
@Dee, Wow, that's a bit of a generalization. How do you know the pet store puppy's parents are living in horrible conditions? Your saying so doesn't make it so. And Dee,how much of the income of the Humane Society of the United States actually helps abused animals? And were you aware that PETA operates one and only one shelter in the whole United States and kills 95 percent of the animals it take in. The links you provided are fine for what they are: propaganda. Anyone can create a website and endorse anything they want. Any fool can cite it. An insightful person would research both sides of the question and form their own opinion and I have. The HSUS, ASPCA and PETA have their own agendas and very little of it includes helping the warm, fuzzy puppy at your local shelter. Most of their income is dedicated to making sure they generate more income; their "cause" could be anything. They use animals because it suits their purposes and generates big bucks.
Julianne StarMonkey Stammer Brown February 14, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Recently, two members of ReLove Animals Inc. visited Charm City Puppies. The following includes the facts from that visit. On February 5 at 11:29 a.m., Tony Cossentino stated in response to The Sun's article ..."As the owner of this store, I would encourage customers who are curious to come in to the store and visit directly. We will gladly set the record straight on any questions you may have about us and our puppies. We might just change your mind about what you think of puppy stores. I will not respond further on this forum because it is too easy for certain individuals to bully us online with unfounded things that they would never say to our faces. None of the opposition has even visited the store to see for themselves, not even the leader. Please search 'Charm City Puppies' on Facebook for more information. Thanks, we love you Charm City!" We visited the store on Thursday, February 9th. The store is lovely and clean, with a nice variety of products. The puppies were cute and seemed relatively happy in their cribs. Part 1 (cont)
Julianne StarMonkey Stammer Brown February 14, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Upon arrival at the store, we first spoke with Jackie Cossentino, one of the owners, who later called her husband Tony to the store for further discussion. We discussed the public's concern about the puppies coming from puppy mills and asked for their list of breeders. Tony refused to give us the information but said he would give it to anyone else. If that is information you are interested in, please visit the store. They did say that they get their puppies from a broker, The Hunte Corporation located in Goodman, Missouri. We tried to discuss a humane business model that many pet stores in the country are transitioning to, one which only adopts out puppies or dogs that are in shelters or rescues, but the owners of Charm City Puppies were not interested. We would welcome the opportunity at any time in the future to once again sit down and discuss this business model with them. We are pursuing our plans to have educational demonstrations in order to educate the public on puppy mills, what they are, and that almost all pet store puppies come from puppy mills (according to several national animal welfare organizations). We are excited to report that we have been in contact with other pet stores who are willing to sit down and learn about a humane business model. One of them is very interested in transitioning to not selling puppies and instead only offering rescues for adoption. We will keep you updated on the progress we are making. Part 2 (cont)
Julianne StarMonkey Stammer Brown February 14, 2012 at 12:28 AM
For more updates on our upcoming educational demonstrations, links regarding pet stores, puppy mills, and animal welfare, and other ongoing developments please join our Facebook page 'ReLove Animals Inc.' Part 3
Andrew Donald June 27, 2012 at 06:21 AM
you are either a complete idiot or a puppy mill breeder, probably a breeder. you write the same comments on every single animal welfare website. please no one take this man seriously
Suzan Zins October 18, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Well said, Jen!
Chrissy Eckert January 15, 2013 at 09:35 PM
Maybe the owner should fear for his/her life, if only to understand how all of the shelter animals would feel if they knew what their likely fate was. All sarcasm aside (no, I'm not threatening anyone) I tried to ask Charm City Puppies some questions about its business model and was promptly banned from their Facebook page. So they must be afraid of something. Probably any truth getting out to their ignorant fanbase.
Chrissy Eckert January 15, 2013 at 09:53 PM
Man, it's a shame Hoco shelter is the only shelter in the state. Oh, wait... I'm not familiar with HoCo shelter, but I am familiar with BARCS, a number of rescue groups, the Humane Society, and the MD SPCA. None of which are hurting for animals - quite the opposite. The one rescue you cite is just that: ONE Rescue. She probably had no business trying to rescue so many, like a hoarder. CCP refuses to give info on which specific breeders they purchase from. I can find out which specific farm my milk comes from - why can't they tell me where my new family member comes from? Sounds suspicious. But, whatever. I totally neeeeeeeeeeeed that 100% purebred yorkie-sharp-poo-WTF-ever. Ugh. It's so shallow.
Mother Goose April 09, 2013 at 04:44 PM
There are problems with each way of acquiring a family pet unless you deal with a bona fide breeder. I would say a "bona fide" breeder would be someone with a passion for a particular breed of dog or cat. This persons animals receive excellent medical care, are not bred in such a way as to endanger the mothers health and the mothers are not killed when they can no longer produce income. This breeder should be able to allow you to meet the parents of the puppies/kittens and allow you to choose your puppy/kitten from the litter. The breeder will ask you for almost as much information about yourself as a mortgage broker AND verify the information. If the breeder asks you to wait in a specific area while they retrieve a puppy/kitten for you, RUN! There is probably a very good reason they don't want you to SEE the area where they are housing the animals they have for sale. I am not a breeder. I have a coworker who shows and breeds Maine Coons and a family friend who ran a boarding kennel and bred retrievers until they were physically unable to maintain the operation.
Mother Goose April 09, 2013 at 06:04 PM
Part 1) The reason there are so many pure bred (or appear to be pure bred) cats and dogs in the shelters is because people often purchase a pet because it looks adorable and it’s so cute and cuddly. They do little to no research about the breed. They are unable to realize that tiny bundle of fur could or will grow into a dog that weighs 60 to 100 pounds or more in some breeds. They have no idea how much it costs for veterinary care such as wellness checks, spaying or neutering, vaccinations and preventative medications. They’re unaware of how much time is required to maintain certain breeds of dogs AND cats coats. They’re on their way home with the new pet totally oblivious of the number of times they leave work to meet up with friends for drinks and/or dinner and what happens when Fido needs to use their outdoor lavatory while they’re partying. Will that ball of fur still be so lovable when they come home to a puddle of pee or a steaming pile of poop?
Mother Goose April 09, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Part 2) Will the puppy still be cute and cuddly after it digs a hole in the carpet, shreds paper or tissues or destroys the sexiest pair of heels you own or will he be on his way to a shelter in the morning? Do they know if their puppy is one of the breeds that is a puppy for up to 2 years and unless trained will chew everything including furniture? Regardless of the weather that puppy will still need to go for a walk or outside to relieve himself even when the pet parents prefers to lounge indoors during bad weather. Do they know if a certain breeds barks more than another and could annoy their neighbors until the police are at their door? If they take home a kitten do they know how much damage those claws can do when they come out? Have they ever seen what cat claws can do to furniture and drapes? Have they ever attempted to clip a cat/kittens nails? Have they ever been face down cleaning a litter box which MUST be cleaned at least daily? Do they know that ball of fur could leave some stinky surprises to let you know how unhappy they are with how their litter box is being maintained? Do they know how hard it is to get the odors from those surprises out of carpet? Will this be when they dump the cat/kitten at a shelter? Do they think they might like to clean a puddle of slime with a wad of hair in it or would this be something that would have the cat/kitten on the way to a shelter?
Mother Goose April 09, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Part 3) I hope this sheds some light on how so many pure breeds end up in shelters. I doubt anyone is stealing them to fill shelters since there are more than enough humans who are unable to THINK before they leap into a situation. These would be the same people who are always exempt from blame because nothing is ever their fault, it’s the stupid animal. Those of us on the other end receiving that unwanted and possibly abused animal don’t see it that way. We are the ones who have to try to comfort that animal as it whimpers and shakes in fear and HOPE that someone will come in and give it a home before it has to be euthanized (KILLED) to make room for the new batch of unwanted cute and cuddly balls of fur.
KC April 09, 2013 at 06:22 PM
There is NOT an over population problem. If healthy dogs are dying in shelters it is the shelter's fault. There is a shortage of dogs and that is why hundreds of thousands are imported into the U.S. or sent from state to state. The ONLY increase in purebreds that are in shelters is because they are stolen from sound breeders under the guise of abuse. Open your eyes people. You are being fooled
MF April 09, 2013 at 07:06 PM
I am having trouble finding logic in your comment. It seems that euthanasia rates would be low if there were no "supply" - right? Not "3 million to 4 million a year" (ASPCA). And where does the resupply of 3-4 million EACH YEAR come from if not from over population? From imports? From people importing dogs from other countries? Maybe you didn't explain your point clearly and can answer these questions with some thought. "Hundreds of thousand...imported into the US or sent state to state (do you have a stat for that?)?
MF April 09, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Even if all shelters euthanized only sick or behavioral issue dogs, & you were correct that "there is NOT an over population problem" then it would be challenging for me to go to a shelter & find it full or partially full of dogs; some of the ones there actually "stolen from sound breeders under the guise of abuse." Would you agree? There would be empty cages. Not many too choose from. The shelter could charge higher prices b/c they aren't just covering expenses but making $ b/c there is a "demand"- supply & demand laws - right? Running a shelter could actually be a profitable business given your logic. Given your logic, it doesn't make sense that there are 172,945 healthy mixed or purebred dogs looking for homes (there is a shortage of dogs! Are they making these profiles up!?). given your logic, I could actually pick up the rare stray or lost dog & call a shelter & say, "Can you just keep him safe for a few weeks - can you just shelter him - until his owners find him?" And they would say "Sure!" b/c there is actually a shortage of dogs in the US. All 26 stray dogs that I picked up last year would be outliers, by your logic & I could've made & selling the purebred ones. People who wanted a dog WOULD HAVE TO contact a breeder, be on a wait list at a shelter or rescue, or import one from a country with dog overpopulation issues & deal with required quarantines. And I would do all of these things to have a dog. Because, like you, I love dogs. Right? Or am I being fooled?
KC April 09, 2013 at 07:48 PM
I am not going to do your research and homework. You can start with the Center for Disease Control for the numbers of imports and the problems it causes. Per TUFTS In 1973 65 million cats and dogs with 20% dying in shelters 1990's the number of cats and dogs increased to 110 million with a 4.5% dying.The animals put down include very sick, vicious and old dogs. Any shelter that claims pet over population and uses that as a reason to kill healthy animals should be closed and prosecuted. Now do some work and find out the facts and stop listening to emotional pleas by greedy groups that call themselves shelters
MF April 09, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Again, looking for logic - given the stats you provided above - that there was an approximate 4.5 million increase over 17 years in euthanized animals. It seems like there are a disturbing abundance of animals to euthanize- not a shortage. Right?
Mother Goose April 09, 2013 at 09:38 PM
KC, if you actually think there is a shortage of unwanted dogs, please check out a site called Petfinder.com. Look at the number of dogs in this area alone who need homes. It is NOT the fault of the shelters that they have to put animals down. They have limited funding and limited space to house animals that someone decided they didn't want anymore. Take a good look at the number of older and senior pets who need homes. Who keeps an animal for years and then abandons it as if it's an old pair of shoes? When people show up at shelters and rescues the 1st thing they ask to see are the puppies and kittens. It's hard to get them to look at the older animals. I don't know where you are getting your information but I'm getting mine first hand from the sources. Perhaps you could volunteer at one of the rescues so you can SEE for yourself? You'll find out quickly why so many have to limit the amount of time they can spend in shelters because it will break your heart.
KC April 09, 2013 at 09:46 PM
OMG there will always be animals (as long as animals rights do not succeed in their agenda to end all companion animals) that need to be euthanized for extreme illness, viciousness and just plain old age. Logic escapes you. The stats I used showed that the numbers have decreased in the millions over the years. So either shelters are lying about killing healthy dogs or they should be prosecuted
KC April 09, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Oh I get it MF, you are asking these daft questions as a joke?
MF April 09, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Well, yes -your logic escapes me! There are some words missing from your info, which may have helped, but it does look like "dogs INCREASED to 110 million with a 4.5% dying" the evidence you chose doesn't support "shortage of dogs" theory. It appears, at least, that you may actually have issue w/animal people/shelters/rescuers/tax payers taking issue w/you/your business/someone you know business/the business model of selling dogs bred for commercial (vs. personal) sale, when you feel that shelters are euthanizing healthy dogs? Well, guess someone could be lying as you suggest, but still issue with TOO MANY animals: as a tax payer, it is outrageous the money wasted on euthanizing animals (45,000 in MD each year, that adds up to $8-9 million!) that others bred/adopted/bought/were given. Politicians on both side of the aisle agree, which is why the Senate in the MD Gen.Assem. voted overwhelmingly to pass the Voluntary Low-cost Spay/neuter bill, SB 820/ HB 767 (or is this part of the "agenda to end all companion animals" vs. reducing wasting tax payer dollars and reducing suffering? Are you for proactive approaches & efficient use of tax dollars, or reactive use of tax dollars for euthanizing? ).There will be animals that need to be euthanized -no one is arguing that so not sure what your intended point was. An issue is WASTING tax payer dollars-animal lover or not-when reducing overpopulation is an option that you object to b/c it doesn't suit you or a business model personally.
KC April 09, 2013 at 10:45 PM
I am an active volunteer for a rescue group in my state. I just did a home visit Saturday. I have fostered and pulled dogs out of the pound, taken them to the vet, groomed them and delivered dogs. I fully understand that older dogs are harder to place than younger but they can be placed and I am fully aware of some of the heartless reasons people dump their animals at pounds and the people that are the biggest problem who have oops litters and it has become okay to use the shelter as a dumping ground. And of course I know Petfinders the largest vehicle used to sell/broker animals on the internet. Pet households are up and euthanasia is down. Animal Rights (not the same as animal welfare) have effectively used pet overpopulation as a tool for donations. There is absolutely no reason but bad shelter management to kill a healthy animal.
MF April 09, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Wow. Hunte Corp., which Charm City Puppies reportedly uses, turned out 90,000 puppies in 2007 - what a production! They don't even appear to be the breeder, but the middleman: "we probably rejected 30 percent of the puppies brought to him because of the quality, but that is less than 10 percent now." That may equal 9,000-27,000 "low-quality"/rejected dogs. What happens to them? (The preacher's kid's comment concerning "God's work" is interesting). CCP- you may be in the wrong line of work - at least the wrong part of the production line! No wonder you have high prices if you are the third one with the "product"! From the article: How the Hunte Corp. processes puppies 1. Eight-week-old puppy sold to Hunte Corp. 2. Hunte performs veterinarian check, gives booster shot. 3. Grooming and/or minor surgery if needed. 4. One- to five-day stay at Hunte. 5. Second veterinarian check. Shipped by semitrailer to pet stores 6. Arrive at pet store. http://www.tulsaworld.com/article.aspx/Puppy_Showcase/071118_1_a1_amwor01213
MF April 09, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Yes! Yes! You've finally got it! Euthanized animals! Wasted tax dollars! Suffering and mass produced and processed animals - all a big joke! Glad you have humor and ability bow low since you are not able to logically clarify points. Come on - you can spend another year responding to every person who has experienced and learned what you won't admit - we have an overpopulation of companion pets and you don't want to acknowledge that b/c you want to run a pet store, make a living, and not deal with the ugly side of what that means. Fair enough. Plenty of people do it in other careers, right? Why don't you at least be a smart business owner in the meantime? The business model is 1) copied, 2) controversial (OK, - do what you believe is your life's calling but you've caught the negative attention of animal people and they see the worst humans can do to some of our most vulnerable so they aren't going to forget about you, and 3) apparently inefficient, since you deal with a middle man. This isn't just about being "daft" concerning humane issues, but business as well...ever thought of at least going local? Selling the dogs out of environmentally friendly cribs? Something innovative and more attractive? Come on! Give us something to work with here!
KC April 09, 2013 at 11:04 PM
So your logic is even worse than your math. In the 70's there were 65 million cats and dogs and 20% were euthanized or 13 million. In the 90's there were 110 million cats and dogs and 4.5 were euthanized or close to 5 million. Today there are about a 140 million cats and dogs and as you quoted 3-4 million are euthanized. Of those 4-5 million are the very sick, vicious and very old. Nope not a big over population problem. You must be one of those people that think one dog is over population and if there were no dogs there would be no killing. Is that your logic?
MF April 09, 2013 at 11:19 PM
Yes! You are correct! 1 dog = overpopulation. I have 2 so don't know where that puts me...overover populated? Double populated? Listen, you don't really make sense, and you obviously very close to the situation at Charm City Puppies, so best of things to you and yours. Hope that you find peace in all aspects of your work, but it seems that will be a bit in the future given your devotion to this thread and defending the sale of production puppies. I sincerely hope each of your dogs, and all of the dogs sold via mass breeders, receive good homes. Your store looks very pretty and your staff probably enjoy the dogs. None of those things, of course, are the issue, and we all know that. It is a beautiful day, and I have two rescued dogs who want to get out and enjoy it. The best to you.
KC April 10, 2013 at 01:15 AM
You need to take your meds or eat some red meat
Kimberly Woodhead April 12, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Stopped in this evening. Shop smells strongly of urine. Caged areas in front have clearly been wet, and puppies are walking/laying in it. Puppies in 'cribs' are laying on hard plastic with no bedding. Large puppy in back room in a small cage howling...clearly distressed/hungry. Cage way too small for this poor animal. Horrible experience for a true animal lover. $999.00 for a puppy seriously limits their chances for being adopted. Owners...shame on you. You are obviously NOT concerned for nothing other than your pocketbook. Have mercy on these poor animals. Take them to the local humane society where they have a better chance of being adopted by a loving family for a reasonable price, and cared for as they should be. A visitor from out of state...

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