EMERSON, N.J. — Vincent LoSacco of Emerson is out of a job.
In just under a year, LoSacco was forced to close each one of his Just Pups stores formerly in Paramus, Emerson, East Brunswick, Valhalla, N.Y. and, most recently, East Hanover .
Like anyone who recently lost a job, LoSacco feels overwhelmed. He feels shocked.
But most of all, he feels targeted.
"What happened with me is the public was made aware of the very sad part of this business, which is that puppies, as cute and lovable as they are, get sick and die," he said.
"That doesn’t mean they were neglected or that they were abused or that they were killed. It’s just part of life. It’s the hidden part of pet stores and the puppy business and it was brought to light with me."
The whole saga started for LoSacco on March 2, 2016 when three dead dogs were found in the freezer of his East Brunswick store. He faced 267 charges of animal cruelty from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA).
LoSacco pointed out that "the law requires us to have freezers for when dogs expire," he said.
Chapter 8:32 A 1.3 of the New Jersey Administrative Code says:
Provisions shall be made for the removal and disposal of animal and food wastes, bedding, dead animals and debris. Disposal facilities shall be provided and operated as to control vermin infestation, odors and disease hazards. In facilities having no refrigeration in which to store carcasses, carcasses shall be removed from the premises within 12 hours, in ambient temperatures of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and above.
Twenty to 40 percent of puppies born don’t make it to 12 weeks, LoSacco said — hence, the freezer.
Charges against the East Brunswick store last March stemmed from lack of adequate infection control procedures, poor and improper veterinary care and the commingling of sick animals with new animals just brought onto the premises, the state SPCA said.
LoSacco alleges that one particular NJSPCA officer came to Just Pups "four or five times" before filing charges.
"If she believed what she wrote," he said, "then she believed there was a store full of animals not being fed or watered, that there was an individual capable of causing bodily harm and she did nothing about it — it's ludicrous."
The following month, 67 puppies were discovered crated in a van behind LoSacco's Paramus shop.
The temperature inside the van was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the outside temperature was 35 degrees, Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said. Police also said there was an ineffective space heater in the van and there was overcrowding in the crates.
LoSacco said overnight crating is common, but maintained that the animals were comfortable.
"[The Paramus Police Department's] discovery, which was mostly photographs, showed there was so much condensation on the window, which meant that the inside of the van was way warmer than the outside temperature," LoSacco said.
"You couldn't see the windshield just by virtue of condensation, and all of the dogs that came out looked vibrant and clean."
LoSacco faced 132 charges following the discovery. Most of the charges were dropped, and LoSacco pleaded guilty to four health code violations and one violation of a borough ordinance.
Soon after, the store was ordered to close, causing a domino effect among the rest.
Animal rights group Pet Store Watchdogs staged a protest outside of the now-closed Emerson Just Pups shop in April 2016.
"They treat the puppies like they're products," said protestor Nicole Lalumiere. "It's horrible the care that they get."
Because of Just Pups and the publicity it received, many New Jersey municipalities have introduced ordinances banning the sale of puppy mill dogs.
Everything seemed to come to a head for LoSacco Friday, when it started sinking in that business would be no more. He signed over the remaining 73 dogs in his East Hanover store to the SPCA, which surrendered them to some local rescues, including Husky House in Matawan.
Husky House officials told Daily Voice that every single one of the dogs had a respiratory infection. LoSacco said he checked every dog three to four times daily, and his veterinarian last Saturday found that only four to six had respiratory problems.
"I'm not disputing that every dog was being treated for respiratory problems," he said, "but I find it hard to believe that every single one had a respiratory problem."
LoSacco isn't sure what's next on his agenda. He's still making sense of all that's happened in the past 11 months.
"I love animals, and all of my staff does, too," he said. "Even if you didn’t, suppose someone was callous and hard and just did it for business — still, that’s their product. Why wouldn’t they take care of it?
Nobody intentionally would do that, it's not smart business.
"I was targeted and I just feel there was a clear objective to close my last store and I’m not sure at what level that came from."