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New Braintree Pet Store Raises Questions About Puppy Safety

Pet Express is opening at the South Shore Plaza Aug. 15, 2013.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
Pet Express, a family-owned pet store with three locations in the Boston area, is opening next week at the South Shore Plaza, renewing a long-standing debate over responsible puppy practices.

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.”    

L.D. Murphy August 08, 2013 at 11:19 PM
When Mr, Mellace says that "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." the next questions should have been - What happens to the tens of thousand of parent dogs of the tens of thousands of puppies? Did you find good homes for all of them when they were too old to produce puppies? Did they live in cages their whole life, in buildings packed with cages with other dogs? Did they ever even see the sunlight? Did these parent dogs ever get to run and play? Did they have a blanket or did they spend their life on a wire floor? Did they have a toy or something to chew? Were their vocal chords cut to keep the noise level down in the buildings with all the dogs in cages? Did they ever chase a ball? Were they groomed on a regular basis? Were they given the chance to be out of their cage every day? How often were they checked by a vet? On average, how much do your breeders spend for vet care for each parent dog in their care each year? How many litters does each female produce each year? When he says animal welfare is in his best interest..what does that mean? The puppy trade is an ugly and cruel business wrought with misery and abuse. There is no getting around it, in order for someone to have sold tens of thousands of puppies there had to be many thousand parent dogs living and dying in endless confinement, forced to have litter after litter until their bodies are worn out. What kind of person would treat a dog like that much less thousands of dogs. It is unthinkable. I wish you had asked even one of those questions!
Anne Burke August 09, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Excellent questions L.D. Murphy! I suggest that each person who feels this shop should not be there to spend time outside the store carrying a poster or handing our fliers with pictures of puppy mills and stating the dogs in the pictures are the parents of the adorable, unhealthy puppies inside. Commit to an hour per week and within a few months, the shop won't be able to afford the rent and close. I live 40 minutes away and am willing to come once every few weeks and put my hour in. How about you? :)
TCD August 09, 2013 at 10:04 AM
Seriously?? "animal welfare is obviously in our best interests." do you really expect people to believe that? “We’re on the same page as activists,". Again, you've got to be joking!! I'm sure the journalist was trying to be "fair" but there's nothing fair about puppy mills and pet stores. As the representative from the MSPCA commented, no good breeder would EVER in a million years, sell their puppy to a pet store. Pet stores are disgusting and should not be supported. Did you know that they have a little trick to get you to buy their pups? They put the bigger puppies in small cages so you'll feel sorry for them and want to "rescue" them. By "rescuing" them, you've just made space for another one to come in. So when you see the German Shepherd puppy in a tiny cage, don't fall for it and don't buy the dog because you feel sorry for it. Ask that the dog be moved to an appropriate cage. Don't perpetuate the problem! If you feel sorry for the dog, do something constructive about it!!
Tamara L. Keegan August 14, 2013 at 11:04 AM
Mr. Mellace? I am calling you out again, on the information your company provides. YOU in your Lynn store proudly display a sign (I bet it's gone now that I've blown the whistle all over the internet) that ALL of your dogs come from breeders via The Hunte Corporation. I only wish I had snapped a picture of that notice beside the puppy prisons. Also, please stop lying to the public! You DO NOT exercise these puppies while they sit waiting to be sold in your store! Not once, repeat, not ONCE have I ever, ever seen a puppy outside of its cage there except for cleaning. I've seen aggressive puppies housed with a smaller more timid puppy. I've pointed out that the timid puppy was being pretty much mauled by the larger more aggressive puppy and your staff merely laughed and said "Oh they're just playing". I will give you ONE good thing. Your puppy prison cages are very well maintained and cleaned. Otherwise? I'd be photographing it on the down low and posting pictures of them everywhere. So kudos for you. As for the questions as to what happens to the parents of these thousand puppies you're selling? Let me tell you from firsthand experience what happens to these dogs. The parent dogs are bred over and over and over again until they can no longer breed. They're kept in filthy metal cages, stacked on top of each other, left to live in their own waste on wire floors. They never see daylight, they never receive a kind hand and they never get veterinary care. I know this because I've personally been to a few mills and basically they're all the same. Once the dogs are too sick to breed anymore? They are overdosed by the mill owner with any drug he can get his hands on, or left to starve in a deep pit, or shot to death and thrown into a pit way out in the middle of their fields in a mass grave. As to what happens to puppies that get too old and don't sell? I don't have to tell you what happens, really, do I? Get over yourself and stop pretending to care about the welfare of animals when you are profiting off the misery that is the puppy business. Anyone can google The Hunte Corporation and take it from there and see firsthand for themselves what I say is true. Also, just check out the Pet Express page...I've done your job for you and placed video of where your dogs come from.
Ellen Clarke August 14, 2013 at 11:53 AM
Maybe this is already happening, but if not....we could all write and email the owner of the mall. They are the ones who leased the space to the pet store. Their contact info is: Simon Property Group World Headquarters 225 W. Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204-3435 United States We can send them emails at www.simon.com/contact.

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