TOMS RIVER — For weeks in the summer of 2015, Pat Youmans stared out the window of his Cherry Hill puppy shop, Pat’s Pets, and saw at least half a dozen protesters daily.
His then-fiance was 8 months pregnant at the time, and customers began fearing the short walk from their cars to the shop’s front door.
Youmans was left with no choice.
“I looked at (my fiance) and I said, ‘There are two things that are going to happen here. I’m going to walk outside and he’s going to help me or I’m going to jail.’ I’m done,” he said in a recent interview.
Animal rights activist Alan Braslow protests Pat’s Pups in Cherry Hill on July 16, 2015. (Stephanie Maksin | For NJ.com)
Youmans was referring to Alan Braslow, an animal rights activist who led the charge against Pat’s Pets. Braslow was upset that Youmans was selling so-called puppy-mill dogs — puppies that come from underground breeders who raise large quantities of dogs for profit in often deplorable conditions — and gave him an ultimatum: sell rescue dogs or the protests continue.
Nearly two years later, Youmans and Braslow are standing inside Pat’s Puppy Rescue, Youmans’ new shop on Route 37 west in Toms River, which exclusively sells rescue puppies. Youmans and Braslow now exchange smiles and laughs about their feud in Cherry Hill.
“He hated me,” Braslow said with a wide grin on his face. “… But they’re doing what’s right now and that’s all that matters.”
The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are around 10,000 puppy mills in the country. In New Jersey, nearly 100 local municipalities have passed ordinances banning the sale of pets that come from puppy mills.
“It has to happen on a local level,” Braslow said of regulating the sale of puppy-mill dogs.
A bill (S3041) that passed both houses of the state Legislature and is on its way to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk would outlaw the sale of puppy-mill dogs statewide. The legislation is a revision of the “Pet Purchase Protection Act,” which requires pet stores to disclose the origins of the cats and dogs they sell. Christie signed the bill into law in 2015.
If vetoed by the governor, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), in a video posted on Facebook, vowed to override it. Braslow was among those standing next to Lesniak in the video.
Braslow, who works full-time as an employment benefits consultant, volunteers with the pet activist group Best Friends Animal Society.
“My wife says I don’t sleep,” he quips, adding that his full-time job allows him to follow his passion, which is finding rescue animals homes.
The story of how Braslow and Youmans became friends started when Braslow, a Cherry Hill resident, got a call from a friend who told him that a new puppy shop opened 10 minutes away from his home. The two went to Youmans’ shop to reason with him, but he wasn’t interested, Braslow said.
Instead, Braslow galvanized a force of protesters to stand outside Youmans’ shop daily with signs that read, “Adopt Don’t Shop” and “Puppies are not Products.”
Youman had a change of heart. He closed the shop but invited Braslow in. That’s when the transformation began.
Youmans moved what dogs he had left to a facility in Waretown, and started bringing in rescue dogs with the help of Braslow. He eventually closed the store in Waretown and opened the new location in Toms River on March 13.
Youmans gets the rescue puppies from facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Puerto Rico — which has an abundance of dogs roaming its streets. Youmans, who brings in about 20 to 40 rescue puppies a week, said he knows “going rescue” isn’t going to get him rich.
Youmans sells the rescue puppies for a $500 fee. But, of that money, anywhere from $100 to $150 gets donated back to the rescue facility to help it care for the older dogs, who don’t get rescued as often as puppies. Another $35 to $40 goes to transportation fees, and then other money gets paid to the vet who comes to give the dogs the shots they need.
“I’m not going to retire, I’m not going to be rich,” said Youmans, 28, of Galloway. “This is what I want to do right now.”
He said the biggest hurdle is getting people to forget his previous reputation for selling puppy-mill dogs. He said he gets inundated with critical comments on Facebook.
“That’s my biggest drawback,” Youmans said, “trying to get people to understand what I’m doing.”
Youmans said he encourages people to come to the shop so that he can show them first-hand that all his puppies come from legit rescue facilities. Braslow, who said he has seen some of the facilities where Youmans gets his dogs from, put his phone number on a large frequently asked questions poster so that people with concerns can call him.
“The challenge here is to get people to understand what was is not,” Braslow said. “He’s (Youman) committed to doing what’s right.”
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