PARAMUS, NEW JERSEY – Police found the dogs behind Just Pups at around 3 a.m. local time Monday while doing a routine check, news outlets reported. Officers said the temperature in the van was 38 degrees.
More than 60 puppies were under the care of Tyco Animal Control late Monday after being found earlier in the morning locked in steel crates inside a van parked behind a Paramus dog store, Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said.
The store, Just Pups, is part of a chain owned by Vincent LoSacco, who is facing allegations of animal cruelty in relation to another one of his stores.
Authorities said that around 3 a.m., Paramus police officers found 67 dogs, some covered in feces, crammed into small metal crates inside a white 2002 Freightliner Sprinter van parked behind Just Pups on Route 17 south. Officers said the van was registered to LoSacco.
LoSacco, whose business license for his East Brunswick shop was revoked last week, said Monday evening that the van the puppies were kept in was a “customized transport van that is isolated and temperature controlled.” The van, he said, was holding puppies transported to the Paramus store from his breeding kennel in Missouri.
“It’s not unnormal to leave them [the puppies] in the van, as long as they have air conditioning or heat — depending on the season — and food and water,” LoSacco said. “It’s the same thing with the pet store. People aren’t there 24 hours.”
Authorities said that about 2:59 a.m. Monday, Police Officers Daniel Derienzo and Matthew Lombardo, who were on routine patrol on Route 17, noticed the van parked in the rear area of the shopping complex. When the officers approached the van, they heard crying and whining and immediately smelled a strong odor of urine and feces. When the officers opened the vehicle through the unlocked sliding door, they found the dogs.
Officers said the temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit inside the van, which had an ineffective space heater, and ventilation was poor. They also observed that some of the crates did not contain food or water. The crates held two to four puppies each, and some were unable to stand because the crates were too small, officers said.
LoSacco, however, said the cages “were not overcrowded” and that there were eight to 10 empty cages in the van. He said the cages with multiple dogs were likely litters, and that the low temperature reading must have been taken after the van’s sliding door was opened to the night air. He said dogs may have become covered in feces when the police officers loaded the van onto a flatbed truck to transport it.
Sixty-seven dogs in total were taken to Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, a hospital spokesman said. It was determined that 15 of the animals required further medical treatment. Initial police reports estimated that 50 puppies were found in the van, but the hospital confirmed the higher number.
“When we got the call, we kind of mobilized our team and brought in technical staff,” hospital spokeswoman Nancy Miles said. “We’ve had incidents with pet stores in the past, but this is the most we’ve ever received.”
According to Miles, the dogs rescued from the van were puppies of various breeds, including golden retrievers, Labradors and terrier mixes. As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, four of the animals remained at the hospital in isolation for treatment of possible viruses. The rest of the dogs were transferred to Tyco Animal Control, which has contracts with more than 20 municipalities in Bergen and Passaic counties.
Miles said the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office would determine what would happen next with the puppies. “Right now it’s all up in the air,” she said. Neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor Tyco responded to inquiries regarding the puppies.
The incident is being investigated by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Animal Cruelty Task Force, Paramus police detectives and the Paramus Health Department.
The store, which usually opens at 10 a.m., was closed Monday. The store has been closed by the borough Health Department, pending the investigation, authorities said.
Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said the store had been the subject of complaints from residents who alleged that they saw unsanitary conditions and animal cruelty over the last two to three weeks.
LaBarbiera said a Paramus inspector visited the store in response to the complaints and found some unsanitary conditions, but no signs of cruelty. The store was closed for about 24 hours while those sanitary conditions were addressed.
At around 11 a.m. on Monday, a few customers had approached the store to find its doors locked. Inside, puppies could be seen, and it appeared some employees were in a room in the back of the store. A former employee of Just Pups in Paramus, who declined to give her name, came to pick up a payroll check and to see a puppy she liked.
“I’ve heard the bad things people have said about the store,” said the former employee, who left the job because she wanted better hours. “But they really do care about the dogs.”
As of Monday evening, LoSacco said he did not know if his store would be open today.
Last week, East Brunswick’s council unanimously voted to revoke LoSacco’s license at his East Brunswick store, the chain’s largest.
That decision came after the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed 267 animal cruelty charges against LoSacco. In those charges, the NJSPC alleged, among other things, that LoSacco exposed puppies to illnesses by commingling healthy and sick animals. Three dead dogs were allegedly found in the store’s freezer on Feb. 29.
Last month, LoSacco posted a video on YouTube denouncing the allegations and also created |a Facebook page called “The Truth about Just Pups in New Jersey.”
According to the Just Pups website, there are stores in Emerson and East Hanover. In February, LoSacco’s attempts to renew his license for a Just Pups location in Valhalla, N.Y., were reportedly denied.
According to an application filed with the state of Missouri, LoSacco registered Just Pups as a foreign limited liability company in that state for the purpose of breeding on April 15, 2015. LoSacco confirmed that he breeds dogs at this location and then transports them to his stores for sale.