The new store enters the Plaza a few years after the closure of Debbie's Pet Land, which, like many pet stores, was criticized by residents and adoption advocates for its poor handling of dogs and for its commercial suppliers, termed puppy mills by critics.
Pet Express co-owner Robert Mellace strongly disputes the notion that his company sells mistreated or unhealthy animals. He said that while he acknowledges some retailers have given the industry a bad reputation, he and his siblings have placed tens of thousands of puppies with customers over the years and "animal welfare is obviously in our best interests."
“We’re on the same page as activists," Mellace said. "We want to ban people who are abusing animals. My heart bleeds as well as anyone else’s.”
The store's scheduled Aug. 15 opening, with a grand opening set for Aug. 17, has prompted concern from some Braintree residents.
In response to a question posed on Facebook by Braintree Patch about the new location, Kelley MacDonald said she is completely against the new store.
"They just breed puppy mills," MacDonald said. "There are plenty of loving animals in shelters waiting to be adopted. Shelter adoption is the way to go."
Mary DiTullio Russo, sharing a widely-held concern about commercial breeding, questioned where the puppies would come from and how they would be treated.
"There are so many rescue agencies with so many puppies that need homes!" Russo said. "[I] have a rescue dog and he is one of the best dogs ever!!"
Pet Express receives dogs only from registered, reputable breeders, Mellace said. They also follow strict sanitation and health protocols set up with veterinarians and stay vigilant about complaints filed against breeders.
"We’re constantly looking for people doing it wrong," Mellace said.
Mellace, who owns Pet Express with his brother John Mellace and sister Lucia Castle, said he could not provide the names of any breeders the companies uses because of business competition. Pet Express does, however, divulge the breeder information and a complete health history at the time of sale, he said.
The refusal to talk about who supplies the puppies is a red flag for MSPCA-Angell spokesman Rob Halpin.
Halpin said he did not have any specific information about Pet Express but said that pet stores almost always get dogs from puppy mills – large-scale commercial facilities that are often dirty and overcrowded.
"No reputable breeder would sell their dogs to a pet store," Halpin said. “The welfare of that animal takes a back seat to the commercial value.”
There are many better options for getting a puppy, Halpin said, including adoption through an animal shelter or a rescue agency. “When you rescue a dog you save two lives," the dog you adopt and the dog who can fill that empty space, he said.
Marybeth McGrath, director of Braintree's Department of Municipal Licenses & Inspections Health Division, said the town has little to do with this type of business aside from collecting any complaints from residents and forwarding them to the state.
The Division of Animal Health licenses all pet shops. State law requires a 14-day warranty with the sale of every dog. Pet shops are not required to pay veterinarian expenses after purchase but must provide a refund or replacement if a veterinarian determines the dog is diseased or has a congenital disorder.
Mellace said Pet Express keeps its puppies healthy by exercising them in the store throughout the day and by having a strict cleaning schedule. The company's 70-plus employees are the first line of defense against mistreatment, he added.
“We’re going to prove that we’re not what everybody believes what a pet store is," Mellace said. “These are not products, they are living beautiful creatures.”