Owner ready to close embattled Scarborough pet store
SCARBOROUGH — A quarantine on puppy sales was lifted last Saturday morning, but Little Paws pet shop owner Barbara Cross said she is closing the business as soon as she can sell the 34 puppies she has in stock.
"I thought it was going to be fun and wonderful – yeah, not so much. I didn't realize how hard it would be," Cross said last Friday about the 14 months she operated the store at 456 Payne Road.
Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spokesman John Bott said the July 29 quarantine placed on the store by the department's Maine Animal Welfare Program was lifted when tests showed none of the puppies in stock had parvovirus.
The ban on sales came after a 9-week-old puppy tested positive for the virus several days after its owner, Tina Bark of Westbrook, took her home from the store.
Cross said bad publicity and two quarantines on sales this year because puppies tested for parvovirus made her and business partner Jamie Nonni decide to close the store if a buyer is not found.
"It's really financially a big loss when you get accused of parvo," Cross said. "I don't know how to prevent dogs from getting sick after they got home."
As described by the Humane Society of the United States, parvovirus can be transmitted through feces and vomit of infected dogs. The virus attacks the canine intestinal tract and in rare instances, a dog's heart, causing lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and depression.
Bark said her dog is recovering from the virus and is no longer in the care of Animal Emergency Clinic in Portland.
"She has her energy and appetite back, but she is still fighting an upper respiratory infection," Bark said Monday. She said she has paid more than $5,000 in veterinary bills after buying Sophie for $1,300.
Cross estimated she and Nonni spent about $300,000 buying the business last summer, and have been targeted from the start by Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills.
"I eat it, sleep it, drink it, but it is not enough," Cross said. "They've been trying to close me since three weeks after I bought the store."
Lynne Fracassi, Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills founder, didn't deny that she and the group have tried to close the store and its predecessor, Pawsitively Pets.
"Now there will be 600 puppy mill puppies less that are sold in Maine," Fracassi said Tuesday. "It is a huge hit to the puppy mill industry. Our goal is to cut the demand out."
Cross said she has reduced her reliance on large, out-of-state breeders. She said the dogs that tested positive for parvovirus came from breeders in Kansas and Missouri.
"I would say I have blacklisted at least 50 breeders," Cross said, and added she was trying to work with local breeders after learning they did not always have to be federally registered to do business with her.
In July 2012, Fracassi and the group sought a ban in Scarborough on selling puppies from large-scale breeders. The Town Council Ordinance Committee decided against drafting an ordinance for full council consideration.
Fracassi said Cross did not live up to vows made last summer to use the most reputable breeders.
"They said they were going to weed out the worst and ended up using the very worst," Fracassi said. "We are not against breeding, we are against the large-scale breeders that just do not care about their dogs."
In Fracassi's opinion, working with smaller-scale, local breeders is not the answer.
"No reputable breeder will ever sell to a pet store, because they will not know where the pets are going and the prospective customers will not be screened," she said.
Bark's dog was the second sold by Little Paws found to have parvovirus. A puppy bought in January by Julie Thomas of Madison, N.H., tested positive and died Feb. 2.
The positive test results led to the first 15-day quarantine on Feb. 1. The quarantine was extended when state veterinarian Christine Fraser said an in-store puppy tested positive for parvovirus when examined by the store's veterinarian.
In the cases leading to the quarantines, Cross suggested parvovirus tests produced false positives after vaccines. Bark and Thomas said their dogs became ill less than a week after leaving the store.
Cross recently said there had been discussions about selling the store to members of Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills for use as a rescue center, but Fracassi said it will not happen.
"The store has such a bad reputation, we could never get that off the ground. If there is one speck of parvo there, then nobody wants their dog there" she said.