by Amanda Staab
Reporter staff writer
04.11.09 - 11:02 pm
Despite consumer complaints and inquiries into its practices, an animal rescue group that claims to have a location in West New York says it is rightfully saving dogsâ€™ lives.
The director of Guardian Angels Animal Rescue, Annmarie Rice of Kenilworth, N.J., said that she has been taking in unwanted dogs and puppies and finding people to adopt them for 14 years, and sheâ€™s never had a problem until recently.
â€œAll of the sudden, the last couple months, everybody is on my back,â€ said Rice. â€œIt is ridiculous.â€
The group advertises pets for adoption on the national website Petfinder.com, and it lists West New York, where a volunteer used to live, and Union, N.J. as locations. However, many times, Rice asks people to visit her residence in Kenilworth to see the dogs that are up for adoption.
Rice said that after a neighbor complained that too many out-of-towners were regularly parking on their street in order to visit dogs there, Rice was summoned to appear in the Kenilworth Municipal Court. The townâ€™s zoning department charged Rice with running an â€œanimal shelter businessâ€ in a residential zone. The hearing on this matter was postponed this past Monday, as it had been already two times before, and will be rescheduled, according to Kenilworth Violations Clerk Carol Campbell.
On the Guardian Angels webpage linked from Petfinder.com, the group is described as an organization of volunteers dedicated to rescuing animals and fostering them before they can be placed in a permanent home. Guardian Angels has posted several adult dogs on the site for adoption, but consumers have reported that Rice keeps numerous â€œrescuedâ€ puppies in her basement to adopt out for a fee.
Rice said that these are puppies she saves from puppy mills.
â€˜A scary, scary lifeâ€™
â€œPuppy millsâ€ are commercial dog breeding facilities where animals often live in unsavory conditions and may be continuously bred without much concern for their health. According to a Newsweek article last week, there are 5,000 to 10,000 mills across the country. According to the New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse organization (NJCAPSA), a non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness about the connection between pet stores and puppy mills, the majority of puppy mill dogs that end up in New Jersey are from facilities in Pennsylvania.
â€œA lot of groups donâ€™t agree that I take puppy mill puppies, but that is where my heart is.â€ â€“ Annmarie Rice
Rice says that she routinely gets dogs from puppy mills, both old breeder dogs that can no longer produce and puppies that might otherwise be euthanized. She says she and some associates of hers then adopt out the dogs in order to save them, not to make a profit.
â€œA lot of groups donâ€™t agree [with the fact] that I take puppy mill puppies, but that is where my heart is, because it is a scary, scary life for those dogs,â€ said Rice. She added that she has been to puppy mills where adult female dogs are kept in small, wooden boxes to produce litter after litter.
â€œThatâ€™s their life,â€ said Rice. â€œThey are not socialized. They are not given any love.â€
The puppies Rice rescues, she said, may be originally intended for sale at a pet store, but when the store backs out of the deal with the puppy mill because business is slow, the puppies are left at the mill.
In order to rescue the puppies, Rice said, she sometimes has to pay for them.
â€œA lot of people say that they wouldnâ€™t put one penny in the puppy millâ€™s pocket, but I can not agree with it,â€ she said. â€œAll the puppies that are in the pet stores, they all come from a puppy mill, every one of them. My measly little dollar is not going to make a difference in their pocket, whether I pay for the dog or not. There is always someone who is going to do it.â€
Rice said she usually pays between $20 and $250 for the puppies and has paid more for particular breeds.
â€œThey sell them to me, and then, I get them and adopt them back out for the same amount,â€ said Rice.
However, one consumer complained to the Reporter that Rice wanted an adoption fee that was sometimes up to $600.
Rice said that in addition to paying the puppy mill for the puppy, she also pays for the dogs to be treated by a vet. According to the Guardian Angels website, food and transportation costs are also included in the adoption fee.
Libby Williams, the founder and president of NJCAPSA, said that she has received complaints that may indicate that Rice is actually â€œpuppy brokering,â€ or reselling the puppies for a profit.
According to the NJCAPSA website, â€œWe received complaints about puppies [allegedly] being sold for $400 and up, cash only, from the basement of a Kenilworth, N.J. home from individuals using different names and phone numbers.â€
Puppy brokering does exist legally in the pet industry, but a broker who fronts as a rescue organization is considered to be deceiving the public into believing the puppies have been rescued, when they really have been purchased for resale.
At the same time, consumers have questioned how it is possible that a rescue organization such as Riceâ€™s has pure and designer breeds available for adoption.
Shutting down mills
Animal advocacy groups complain that getting animals from the mills only helps the mills stay in business.
â€œBuying puppies creates the demand for more puppies,â€ said Libby Williams, who has questioned Riceâ€™s methods. â€œSeveral groups and individuals in New Jersey actually keep the puppy mills in business when they consistently buy and sell.â€
She added that many rescue organizations are unlicensed and unregulated and actually deceive the public by acting in same capacity as pet stores or brokers.
â€œThey capitalize on the desire of the public that wants to avoid pet stores and puppy mills at all costs,â€ said Williams. â€œUnscrupulous rescues are duping the very people who wouldnâ€™t support them if they knew where the puppies were really coming from and how little they actually cost.â€
She added that puppy mills are also not tremendously regulated.
â€œThe United States Department of Agriculture oversees the wholesale pet trade and is responsible for inspecting, albeit only annually, and licensing these dealers,â€ said Williams.
When called last week about the local charges brought against Rice, Kenilworth Zoning Officer Robert Herbert declined to comment.
Rice said she didnâ€™t think the town was trying to stop her rescue operation.
â€œThere is nothing to close down,â€ she said. â€œIt is not a place to close down. This is my house, where I have a couple puppies that need a home or an adult.â€
Elaine Samman, the president of another New Jersey rescue group, Animal Life Savers, said that the public needs to help stop the demand for puppy mills. She has worked with Rice in the past, and Rice continues to foster animals for Animal Life Savers. However, Samman does not help Rice with the puppy mill rescues.
â€œThe puppy mills are getting money all over the place,â€ said Samman. â€œThey are getting money from rescue people. They are getting money from pet stores, so they canâ€™t lose.â€
She added that she might rescue free puppies from a puppy mill, but she would never pay a puppy mill for the dogs.
â€œAnimal Life Savers doesnâ€™t agree with what I do,â€ said Rice. â€œTo me, I am saving a puppy.â€
Broker or rescue
One person looking to adopt a puppy in the local area complained that she had to drive to Kenilworth to actually see the puppy, when she was hoping to go to West New York. Rice said she sometimes uses puts Union on the website because it is a larger, more recognizable city than Kenilworth, and that West New York was where one of the Guardian Angels volunteers used to live, but that that should now be changed to Jersey City.
â€œThere are so many other things to worry about that that never really got changed,â€ said Rice.
There is also a group by the same name located in Fort Worth, Tex. Rice said she is not affiliated with that group, and attempts to contact that group were unsuccessful.
According to NJCAPSA, it may be a sign that a rescue is actually a puppy broker when it has multiple locations, especially when they are in the same proximity.
Another clue is cash-only adoptions with excessive fees of $400 and up. According to NJCAPSA, adoption fees are normally between $150 and $200.
It is also not typical for a rescue to always have pure and designer breed puppies, according to NJCAPSA.
â€œWe do have large dog rescues, small dog rescues, but if you see a rescue that consistently has eight- to 12-week-old puppies, all the time, they are buying puppies because they are so appealing and desirable,â€ said Williams. â€œBut, when you have nothing else, when you donâ€™t have adult dogs or older mixed-breed dogs, and you are just solely pushing puppies, that tells me you are puppy brokering.â€
Rice said that she sometimes gets puppies as young as eight weeks old, but she does not always have puppies.
â€œWe have them a lot, but not always,â€ she said. â€œI always have an adult.â€
The group currently has a pit bull, a Labrador, and a German shepherd posted for adoption on its website.
Rice said that she will continue to rescue dogs and find adoptive homes for them.
Meanwhile, there are several animal rescue groups in Hudson County that do offer adoptions at lower rates. The most notable is the only animal shelter in Hudson County, the Liberty Humane Society shelter, at 235 Jersey City Blvd. in Jersey City. Call (201) 547-4147 for more information.
Amanda Staab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.