By JOHN T. WARD
The Red Bank council averted, for now, a showdown over a controversial proposed ordinance that would ban the retail sale of puppies and kittens unless they come from animal shelters and rescue organizations.
At its semimonthly meeting Wednesday night, the council postponed a vote on the measure until June 27 to allow for a possible “compromise,” Councilwoman Kathy Horgan told redbankgreen.
Horgan, liaison to the borough’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, said the delay was needed so that a meeting involving “all stakeholders” could be held.
The proposed law would allow the retail sale of puppies and kittens only if pet stores acquire them from shelters or rescue organizations. Such a requirement, the ordinance states, “is likely to decrease the demand for puppies and kittens bred in puppy and kitten mills, and is likely to increase demand for animals from animal shelters and rescue organizations.”
Slated to attend the closed-door meeting, scheduled for June 5, are Horgan; Mayor Pasquale Menna; Bark Avenue Puppies owner Gary Hager and his attorney; Karen Fasano Thomsen, an attorney and member of the animal committee; committee member Debbie Marks; and Jim Scavone, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, the downtown promotion agency.
Hager, whose shop is the only seller of puppies in town, has repeatedly told the council that enactment of the bill would kill his business. He has threatened to sue the borough if the proposal is enacted.
Bark Avenue, located on West Front Street, specializes in French bulldogs and other breeds that Hager says do not come from puppy mills. Proponents of the ordinance, however, dispute that claim, and point to records showing United States Department of Agriculture citations of breeding operations they claim have supplied dogs to the shop.
Hager has also said that the animal welfare committee never reached out to him, even after Menna and Horgan visited his shop this winter and pledged that the committee would do so.
That outreach, Horgan told redbankgreen, “should have happened. It was an oversight, so now we’re rectifying that.”
Last week, animal committee chairperson Vyolet Jean Savage, a proponent of the ordinance, resigned from the committee.
Without making specific reference to the puppy mill bill, Savage told her fellow committee members in a May 24 resignation letter that the group “has been repeatedly excluded from substantive dialog regarding pertinent policy initiatives and there seems to be little weight given to our efforts.”
Savage did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked if she favored the bill, Horgan said that while she opposes puppy mills and animal mistreatment, “I’m not in favor of putting people out of business, and I’m hoping we can come to some kind of resolution.”
Scavone, meantime, told the Asbury Park Press earlier this week that RiverCenter’s board opposed the bill because it would set a bad precedent to subject a store whose business practices are now regulated at the state and federal levels to borough regulation as well.