Officials: Iowa ‘puppy laundering’ ring has ties to New Jersey pet store

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A group of dog breeders is accused of operating a nationwide “puppy laundering” ring, to funnel puppy mill dogs to pet stores and circumvent laws that ban the sale of puppy mill animals. Dozens of the dogs reportedly wound up at a pet store and rescue in New Jersey, which has been previously linked to puppy mill animals.

The accusations stem from a lawsuit filed by Iowa attorney general’s office, accusing several Iowa residents of passing off puppy-mill dogs as rescue animals, so they could be sold nationwide for as much as $3,600 apiece.

“These dog breeders, we allege, have gotten around these laws by creating nonprofits to essentially funnel the dogs through,” says Lynn Hicks, spokesperson for the Iowa attorney general.

The lawsuit says at least 25 of the animals wound up at Shake A Paw, a New Jersey pet store with locations in Union Township and Green Brook, which also operates a nonprofit rescue. The Iowa lawsuit does not accuse Shake A Paw of any wrongdoing, but Assemblyman Dan Benson (D – Hamilton) is calling on the New Jersey attorney general to investigate further.

“Just from our own consumer fraud acts that we have in the state, we think there's action that can be taken,” Benson says.

Benson also contends the behavior described by the Iowa lawsuit could have been prevented here in New Jersey if Gov. Chris Christie had not vetoed legislation that Benson sponsored in 2017. The proposed legislation would have extended New Jersey’s puppy mill ban to include intermediaries.

In a written statement, Jeff Morton, the owner of Shake A Paw, says he is “shocked and saddened” to learn of the Iowa allegations. “We were contacted by this rescue several years ago, and transferred a handful of what we believed to be rescue dogs to our shelter,” Morton says. He contends the animals were placed for adoption, not sold at his retail stores.

But this isn’t the first time Shake A Paw has been linked to puppy mill dogs. In 2004, Kane In Your Corner exposed how puppy mills in Pennsylvania were supplying New Jersey pet stores. The investigation identified several puppy mill animals for sale at Shake A Paw. At the time, Morton told News 12 New Jersey’s Walt Kane that he was not aware his animals were coming from puppy mills and promised “to do my research now that you brought this to my attention.”

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