By JOHN T. WARD
After seven months of controversy, Red Bank’s proposed ban on the sale of “puppy mill” pets was withdrawn over a failure to win council backing Wednesday night.
Mayor Pasquale Menna said the ordinance, which had been scheduled for an adoption vote, was being withdrawn from consideration “due to the inability to muster sufficient support.” All five council members present voted in favor of the motion to withdraw the bill; Councilman Erik Yngstrom was absent.
Aimed at eliminating the markets for commercial breeding operations that animal activists say are inhumane, the ordinance would have required retailers of cats and dogs to source them solely from rescue organizations and shelters, rather than “puppy mills.”
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, who as liaison to the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee had shepherded the ordinance through three versions, cited community opposition to the borough taking on the burden of defending the law against a lawsuit promised by the town’s only puppy retailer, Bark Avenue Puppies .
“Personally, I’ve concluded that there is a rampant abuse of the federal puppy mill regulations, and the New Jersey Pet Purchase Protection Act does not end the bad practices of these so-called puppy mills,” Horgan said, reading from a prepared statement.
But she also concluded, she said, that “the borough does not have the resources, employees or framework in place to solve these nationwide and statewide problems, without spending a lot of tax dollars, either in litigation defending an outright ban, or by creating a wholly new municipal office to regulate what is essentially one existing shop in our town.”
Horgan said she’d heard from residents who care about animals but told her that “tax dollars should not be used to fight this issue at the municipal level.”
Horgan introduced a resolution, not on the evening’s agenda, calling on Governor Phil Murphy and state legislators to address “numerous lapses in regulation and loopholes in restrictions” in the pet purchase law.
“In the alternative,” the resolution says, the state should “consider a state-wide ban on the retail sale of certain dogs and cats, as has been enacted in the State of Maryland and the State of California.”
The resolution said the council concluded that there is “a significant number” of puppies and kittens sold at pet shops in New Jersey, “including some puppies and kittens sold within the limits of the Borough,” that come from puppy mills.
Bark Avenue owner Gary Hager, whose shop specializes in French bulldogs, has disputed claims by members of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and animal advocates that he procures puppies from breeders who don’t provide optimal care of the animals.
The latest version of the ban would have exempted any shop doing business in town before September 15 of this year, but “any change in ownership” would have triggered applicability. Hager told the Asbury Park Press earlier this week that he would still sue if the ordinance was enacted because “it makes my business worthless. I can’t sell it. I can’t transfer it.”
No audience members commented on the withdrawal.
Councilman Mark Taylor, who termed the proposal “fatally flawed” and said it would “unfairly punish” shop owners who “are doing the right thing” when it was introduced in January, used the measure as an example of council business that could be improved by having the governing body hold workshop meetings apart from its regular semimonthly meetings. Earlier in the evening, the council had approved a resolution scheduling monthly workshop-only meetings through the remainder of 2018.
Taylor said it was his hope that workshop meetings “will allow us to meet with stakeholders… and avoid these fiascos.”
Councilman Mike Whelan, who also had objected to the introduction of the ordinance in January, praised Horgan for her “eloquent” statement and said she “could have taken the easy way out” by calling for a vote on an earlier version of the proposed ban.
Taylor and Whelan, Republicans, are outnumbered 4-2 by Democrats on the council.