It's been almost a month since Sasha, the German Shepherd puppy Doreen Longo brought home from a Woodbridge pet store as a Christmas present for her daughter, died a bloody, painful death from parvovirus.
So far, Longo hasn't gotten the one thing she's wanted: to get the township, the county, or the state to shut down the store from which she bought her puppy and which has been charged with selling puppies stricken with the disease.
"I am so disgusted, it's not even funny," Longo said from her Toms River home. She said she's done nothing but try to get someone to go after Rocco Guarruto, the owner of Fancy Pups, and she said she's gotten little satisfaction for her efforts.
The one hope she had was a lawsuit the Middlesex County Dept. of Consumer Affairs (MCDCA) has against Guarruto of Fancy Pups.
The suit was scheduled to be heard earlier this month in Woodbridge Municipal Court, but it was postponed. It's been rescheduled for 8:45 am this Thursday, Jan. 26.
"I'm not holding my breath. This isn't the first time it was postponed," Longo said.
Puppy Lemon Law
The reason why MCDCA has jurisdiction over several suits against the Woodbridge pet store is because of New Jersey's "Puppy Lemon Law."
That entitles people who have sick or dead animals to get a refund from the pet store within 14 days of purchase, provided they have a veterinarian sign paperwork that certifies the puppy was not fit to be sold.
Ironically, a puppy sold in New Jersey is supposed to come with certification signed off on by a vet that the puppy was in good health and could be sold to an owner.
The documentation Longo received didn't have a vet signature on it. State law requires that such paperwork be kept on site at a pet store.
Renee Cirillo, whose job with the state health department is to check up on pet stores, inspected Fancy Pups recently. She said that store didn't have any of that documentation on the premises.
"They were cited for it," Cirillo said.
But the penalties, if any, for breaking the law are mild indeed. All Fancy Pups has to do is "rectify the situation," she said.
"They just have to bring the documentation on site."
There apparently isn't any follow up, though, at least not on the state level. Cirillo said they are only called in an extreme situation.
Usually the county Board of Health has jurisdiction over pet stores, including licensing and annually inspecting them.
Who has responsibility?
In Middlesex County, though, both Woodbridge and Edison elected to take on the responsibility by running their own township health departments.
Woodbridge spokesman John Hagerty insisted vigorously several times that "Woodbridge doesn't license pet stores, we have no responsibility for them. We don't license it, certify it, or register it. That's the county's job. We have nothing to do with it."
After being asked to check again, Hagerty admitted Woodbridge's Health Dept. did have oversight over pet shops in the township.
Longo said her contacts with the township administration have proven equally difficult.
"I keep calling [Mayor John] McCormac. I've never gotten a phone call back from him," she said.
Longo did get a phone call from someone else in the administration who she said told her "Woodbridge had run a sting operation" on the pet shop.
"They said that there wasn't enough they found to close them down," she said.
Cirillo agreed. She was at the store for the inspection, and said she found its condition to be "mediocre."
"There were violations", such as not keeping required documentation on the site with the puppies, "but it wasn't enough to shut it down.
"The animal records weren't there to review. Maybe there would've been nothing there. I can't fault them for what I didn't see. My concern was how frequent this occurence was. I don't have that info," Cirillo said.
Cirillo's office received complaints about Fancy Pups, as did the county and state Consumer Affairs offices, and the NJ SPCA.
According to Longo, she was told the only entity involved with the pet store that had never received a complaint against it was Woodbridge.
"I spoke to the health inspector [Philip Bujalski], who told me he never had a complaint," Longo said.
Pup was parvo-positive
During Sasha's illness, Longo ran up $1,500 in vet bills.
Dr. Robert Cimer, who treated the puppy at Calling All Creatures in Toms River, said the dog not only tested positive for parvo, but had been depleted by "three different types of intestinal parasites and a several viral infection."
According to Dr. Cimer, Sasha had not been innoculated against parvo, as the Fancy Pups owner claimed. State law does not require that puppies get an anti-parvo vaccine.
Dr. Cimer said that "a good breeder would always innoculate against parvo."
"We have a copy off the sticker from the vaccine label. It did not have parvo in it," the vet said. "The benefits far outweigh the risk, because puppies with parvo almost always die."
The veterinarian said that parvo had almost disappeared, but it's made a resurgence in the state because of pet stores who bring in pets from puppy mill owners, many in neighboring Pennsylvania.
With Sasha, Dr. Cimer said that the paperwork Longo received didn't give any indication which puppy in the litter it belonged to. "There was no description, nothing. It is supposed to describe the puppy so you know which one it refers to. [Guarruto] could have copied [one vaccination certificate] for the entire litter."
'She vomited blood'
Longo was with the puppy when it died. "I whispered to Sasha that he could go if he was too sick to stay. Then all of a sudden, he started yawning and vomiting blood."
She "screamed" and called for the vet assistants, who tried to get the puppy away from her. "My pants were full of blood. The puppy was crying, an unearthly sound," she remembered.
And then it was still.
"That poor, poor puppy. No creature deserves to die like that. No puppy should be sold anywhere in this state with a horrible disease like that," Longo said, her voice choked in anger and tears.
Meanwhile, Longo said she will be in Woodbridge municipal court on Thursday for the Middlesex County Dept. of Consumer Affairs hearing against Guarruto and Fancy Pups.
"I can't even get a new puppy because my home can't be certified as parvo-free for at least a year. No one will sell me a puppy, or let me adopt one, because of that," she said.
"This store should be put out of business," Longo said. "And the laws need to be changed to stop this from happening to anyone else."