Pet store owners respond to allegations

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The owners of a new puppy store in Hampton Bays, who have recently come under fire from animal rights activists, refuted allegations of animal cruelty leveled at them this week and insisted they care about the animals that they’re selling.

Cousins Scott Kaphan and Greg Levine, owners of the Puppy Experience on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, said accusations that they deal with puppy mills, sell sick puppies, and care more about money than the dogs they sell are untrue and malicious. Those allegations were repeated at a recent Southampton Town Board meeting when a dozen or so activists spoke out against the store and held up pictures of emaciated and sickly dogs meant to depict the horrors of puppy mills. The tactic was one Mr. Kaphan called unfair and misleading.

“Those are not my dogs,” he said during an interview this week.

Mr. Levine said the puppies sold in his stores—the partners also have a Puppy Experience shop in Aquebogue—come from private breeders licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that he stands behind every dog he sells. Further, Mr. Levine said the shop provides every customer with registration papers for the dogs they purchase, documents that include information about the breeders.

In addition to the provocative photos, the protesters told Town Board members that the dogs at Puppy Experience were confined in cages and lacked proper exercise. Mr. Levine said this week that only the very tiny, toy dogs are in cages and that’s because they’re easily stolen. Mr. Kaphan said he spent $1,500 each on several open pens that house the majority of the dogs. Both men insisted that the puppies receive attention and exercise.

Mr. Levine said at least 1,000 customers visit his stores on the weekends. “This place is packed with kids playing with the dogs all day,” he said.

Both Mr. Kaphan and Mr. Levine said they run the cleanest puppy store anywhere and welcome people to come in and see for themselves. “We’ve got nothing to hide,” Mr. Kaphan said.

According to both owners, customers offer updates about the welfare of dogs purchased from the Puppy Experience on the store’s website. “We do everything we can to make sure the dogs are healthy and that the customers are satisfied,” Mr. Levine said.

One of the harshest critics of the store has been Dr. Melanie Cimetta, a veterinarian who worked for the Puppy Experience from February to March 2007. Dr. Cimetta said that while she was employed at the shop she saw sick dogs on the floor that were not isolated from the others, and that the owners would not follow her instructions and sold the sick dogs.

Mr. Levine said those accusations are flat out lies. “Even if I didn’t care about my dogs, why would I sell sick ones?” he said. “My business is no different than any other business. If I sold sick dogs I’d go out of business.”

In March and April 2007, Puppy Experience in Aquebogue received several unsatisfactory reports from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Division of Animal Industry. The reports included critical marks about dirty and unsafe enclosures and sick pets that were not isolated. The business was fined $600 by the state department for not meeting “minimum standards of animal care.”

Dr. Cimetta said this week that the owners care only about making a profit and that the dogs sold “like hotcakes.” Mr. Kaphan acknowledged that business was good and that many people bought their dogs. “People want puppies,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Joni Howard, a hospital administrator at Eastport Animal Hospital, which now contracts with the Puppy Experience to provide veterinary care, said she knows Mr. Kaphan and Mr. Levine and does not share the opinions of the activists. She said the men care about the welfare of the dogs.

Dr. Cimetta, however, said she quit in frustration over what she believed was a lack of care for the dogs and said she feared for her professional reputation. Upon leaving the store, Dr. Cimetta, who now works at various clinics across Long Island, said she contacted state authorities about her experience.

Southampton Town Attorney Dan Adams said he is mindful of the complaints made about Puppy Experience, but as of now, the business is operating lawfully.

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said pet stores are regulated by the state. However, she also expressed full confidence in Town Animal Shelter Supervisor Don Bambrick to keep an eye on the store. Mr. Bambrick said since its opening in Hampton Bays shortly after Easter, he has inspected the business half a dozen times and so far has come across no justification to take action.

Another complaint voiced about the store is that it cuts into adoptions from animal shelters where, thanks to the success of local spay and neuter campaigns, there are fewer puppies. Mr. Kaphan said he supports shelters and often takes in dogs and allows people to place pictures in his store of dogs needing homes.

“But some people want a puppy, or a certain type of puppy, like an Old English Bulldog,” Mr. Kaphan said. “And you can’t find that in a shelter.”

Also, Mr. Kaphan said, picking a dog from a shelter can be risky, especially for families with children, because some of them have been abused and have violent tendencies. “You don’t always know what you are getting,” he said. “But with us you do.”

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