Soon-to-open Derby pet shop angers animal rights activists

DERBY — A pet store due to open on Sunday has dog rights campaigners groaning.

A to Z Pets, a pet store in Orange, will open another location in Derby on Pershing Drive this weekend. But animal rights activists plan to be at the store from noon that day to protest the official opening, as the store expects to sell dogs, which they say often come from what they describe as abusive breeders.

Animal rights activist Sheryl Becker said pet stores that sell dogs and puppies often get their animals from so-called puppy mills.

“According to the Humane Society, 99% of dogs sold in stores come from puppy mills. A human breeder can only breed so many dogs at a time. The only way to get a large number of dogs to time is to go through a puppy mill,” Becker said.

Becker said puppy mill animals have been documented living in poor conditions, including limited access to exercise, veterinary care and exposure to the elements. Pet stores say their dogs come from humane breeders, but new pet owners often find their pets seriously ill, she said.

But Tara Fleming, owner of A to Z Pets, says that’s just not true for her store.

“I abide by all laws put in place by the State of Connecticut, which also has laws supported by the Federal Department of Agriculture. So those laws state that every puppy and kitten must come from a breeder licensed by the USDA which has not had a direct violation in its kennel in the past two years,” Fleming said.

The law, she says, curbs abusive breeders.

She said when she opened her first pet store in the state in 2012, she only bought her dogs from local breeders. But when the state mandated that pet stores could only get their animals from USDA-licensed breeders, she had to stop using them because many were unlicensed.

CT Votes for Animals executive director Jo-Anne Basile said just because a breeder is USDA-certified doesn’t mean they take good care of their animals.

“They have very minimal rules that you have to follow to follow their guidelines,” she said.

Basil said the law specifies the size of dog crates, but his group recommends that they be larger; she said the law only requires medical care once a year and the USDA doesn’t have enough staff to adequately inspect the facilities.

Basil said pet stores in general need to stop sourcing animals from puppy mills and either stop selling dogs or just sell pet supplies. Other stores, she said, have done well under this business model.

Fleming said none of his clients have ever complained about his business.

“After they purchase their pet, we’re there for them for the life of the pet. So my customers are all satisfied as far as I know,” Fleming said.

Fleming said she was open to dialogue with animal advocates, but some of them have been aggressive and threatened her and her family. At one point, she considered leaving the company altogether.

She decided not to.

“We see so much joy in customers that we decided to continue,” she said.

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