Riverhead Town may sue Manorville dog breeder

Riverhead Town is considering bringing a Manorville man to court who is alleged to be illegally operating a puppy breeding operation out of his home. Pictured, a man delivers a dog to breeder John Kowal's home on River Road. (Courtesy photo)
Riverhead Town is considering bringing a Manorville man to court who is alleged to be illegally operating a puppy breeding operation out of his home. Pictured, a man delivers a dog to breeder John Kowal’s home on River Road. (Courtesy photo)

Riverhead Town officials are considering legal action against a Manorville man they say has been illegally breeding and selling dogs from his home.

“This is a commercial business in a residential zone,” said Supervisor Sean Walter said of the River Road property. Last Thursday, Town Board members discussed the possibility of litigation in state Supreme Court. The board is expected to formally vote on the resolution at its meeting Wednesday night.

In recent months, the board has taken similar stands against other property owners, claiming they are doing things that aren’t permitted in residentially zoned property.

Among these are the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Preserve north of Sound Avenue, which was issued a notice of violation but has yet to be cited in court, and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons on Manor Lane in Jamesport, which has been issued summonses.

John Kowal owns and lives at the River Road property, where he breeds and sells dogs — fulfilling a lifelong dream, he said.

“I secured this property with my dream in mind,” he said. “My dream is to raise dogs. I have a love for dogs my whole life. My dream is to be left alone. So I paid a half a million dollars for a property with not one neighbor.”

Mr. Kowal said the home nearest his is at least a quarter-mile away. His property is bordered on one side by a 40-acre horse farm and on the other by preserved parkland. He’s been breeding and selling dogs there since 2002, he said, but has no sign on his home advertising the business, does not allow the public to just stop in and look at dogs, does business only by appointment and gets much of his business either online or through word of mouth.

Mr. Kowal said he is a licensed pet seller with New York State and all of his dogs are licensed by Riverhead Town, which charges a separate license fee for each dog.

Mr. Kowal said, however, that “one person that has this personal vendetta against me” has grown upset with the operation.

Joanne Dowless said she has seen “a tractor trailer truck with a lot of barking inside it” with Missouri license plates occasionally delivering dogs to the property. She also says animals on site are too loud. Ms. Dowless lives on Wading River Manor Road on the far side of and across the street from the horse farm bordering Mr. Kowal’s property.

“We are dog lovers and would not complain about normal barking, but this is a lot of barking dogs, several times a day, and some at night,” said Ms. Dowless, a nearby resident. She also had gone around the neighborhood, handing out letters about the dog breeding operation, though “nobody really wanted to get involved,” she said.

But she still believes the operation isn’t fit for that space.

“We have a concern about the welfare of these dogs,” Ms. Dowless said.

Mr. Kowal’s home is inspected by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets every year, he said. Reports from two 2013 trips to the property were available online, though others were not immediately available. A spokesman for the state said all inspections reports since April 2013 are now posted online.

His business is incorporated as American Canine Corp. and operates as Blue Ribbon Puppies. He said he normally has between 20 and 30 dogs at his home at a time.

One report, from March 22, 2013, lists one dog as not having been vaccinated for rabies — a “critical violation.” It also notes that another dog license needed to be renewed and another dog was not licensed. All of the other categories were listed as “satisfactory.”

The other report, from April 2013, lists 10 dogs as not having been vaccinated — again, critical violations — and lacking licenses, with everything else being satisfactory.

“I have an absolute passion for what I do,” Mr. Kowal said. “My dogs get fed every day and they get shelter and they get taken care of every single day. I take care of my dogs from when I wake up in the morning to when I go to bed at night. I spend 15 to 18 hours a day where all I’m doing is taking care of my dogs. This is my full-time hobby and this is my passion. It’s my livelihood, I can’t afford a dog not being happy or being sick. I can’t afford a dog being mistreated.”

As for the trailer trucks, Mr. Kowal said, “When people call me and ask me for a specific breed of dog and I don’t breed it myself, they are retaining me and my resources and knowledge to find that dog for them,” Mr. Kowal said. As a licensed breeder, he said, would know the right questions to ask a dog seller, whereas the average person would not.

The dogs are transported by truck because that’s more humane than transporting them by air, Mr. Kowal said. The transport company is called Hunte Corporation, based in Goodman, Mo.

Mr. Kowal said that he usually receives only one or two dogs from the truck, which also delivers to other places.

“I take care of my dogs all day long, morning, noon and night. And that’s why people retain me to help them,” he said.

But he’s unsure why the town is targeting him, noting that other people in the area conduct business out of their homes as well.

“The guy down the street is breeding koi,” Mr. Kowal said. “The guy next to him has alpacas. Another guy builds tombstones or something like that. Is the town going to go after them too? And what about someone who runs an Internet company out of his home? Would the town have a problem with him? Or what about a landscaper or a masonry guy who has his truck in his driveway?

“If they’re going to take me down because I breed dogs from my home, then they’ve got to go after everyone else, too,” Mr. Kowal said.

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