AG: Precious Pups was ‘flipping’ shelter dogs for cash

03/21/2015 8:00 AM |
Photos of dogs inside the Calverton shelter that were provided to the News-Review by a Precious Pups lawyer last year. (Courtesy: Precious Pups)

A Precious Pups lawyer provided photos from inside the shelter to the News-Review last year. (Courtesy: Precious Pups)

A dog adoption center in Calverton accused of selling sick animals has been permanently shut down and its owners barred from selling, fostering or adopting out animals, according to a court order.

Precious Pups Rescue was first hit with a temporary restraining order in August preventing adoptions after the state received roughly 50 complaints about the operation.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement last week that Precious Pups’ directors Laura Zambito, 43, of Lake Ronkonkoma, and Rose Torrillo-Hooghkirk, 61, of Calverton, have been found responsible for illegally reselling, or “flipping,” puppies through their nonprofit.

The pair, who were not licensed pet dealers, initially kept the puppies in Ms. Torrillo-Hooghkirk’s Riverhead home, and then expanded their Precious Pups operation to a commercial storefront located at 4466 Middle Country Road.

Ms. Zambito and Ms. Torrillo-Hooghkirk are now permanently barred from engaging in any for-profit or not-for-profit activity relating to animals in any way, according to the attorney general.

They are also ordered to pay more than $24,000 in penalties and restitution to victims.

Lisa Hale of Ridge, who adopted a chihuahua from Precious Pups in March 2014 for $400, said the company lied about the age and health of the animal. She returned the dog 10 days later after it bit her, she said.

“I am hoping I recoup my medical bills for the bite and refund for my adoption,” Ms. Hale told the News-Review this week. “I am so glad for the attorney general pursuing this and the judge’s ruling.”

According to Mr. Schneiderman, Ms. Zambito and Ms. Torrillo-Hooghkirk, obtained, or “pulled” puppies from both in-state and out-of-state shelters, sold them to consumers, and pocketed the so-called “adoption fees” or “donations” of $200 to $600 per dog.

The state claims the Precious Pups Rescue directors then falsified veterinary records in order to misrepresent the health of the animals, which caused some customers to incur thousands of dollars in veterinary bills in order to treat their dogs — while other dogs died within days or weeks of being adopted.

Jack Piana, a Hauppauge-based attorney that represented the pair, did not return requests for comment.

Alan Sash, a former lawyer for Precious Pups’ denied those allegations before a Supreme Court judge last September.

In addition to being permanently barred from selling, rescuing or fostering animals or becoming pet dealers in New York State, both are prohibited from soliciting, receiving or holding any funds for any charitable organization or act in a managerial capacity of any charitable organization for a period of 10 years, court documents state.

They’re being made to pay $14,090 in restitution and a $10,000 penalty.

Ms. Zambito was also required to sign a $20,000 confession of judgment, which can be docketed in the event that she is found to be in violation of the consent order, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Pets are companions and important members of many New York families. Consumers deserve to know that their puppies were healthy and raised in a safe place,” Mr. Schneiderman said in the statement. “Through our animal protection initiative, my office is committed to ensuring the humane treatment of dogs and cats by all sellers.

“We will take aggressive action against anyone who endangers innocent animals and, in turn, the New York consumers to whom those pets are sold.”

Consumers who purchased sick dogs from Precious Pups Rescue, Inc. and would like to be considered to receive restitution have 30 days to file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General, Suffolk Regional Office, 300 Motor Parkway, Suite 230, Hauppauge, New York 11788.

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