The Puppy Stop opts to adopt

After an ordinance limits puppies to be sourced by shelters or rescues, Turnersville shop transitions to adoption center

Freeholder Daniel Christy (center) joined, from left, Puppy Stop and Adopt owner Mark Harnish and two employees, Abby Harnish and Melanie Gruenberg to congratulate him on his transition to an adoption center.

The Puppy Stop in Turnersville has reopened as The Puppy Stop and Adopt after owner Mark Harnish made the transition to a puppy adoption center earlier this month.

A township ordinance passed last fall required pet stores to only receive dogs from shelter or rescue sources, rather than commercial breeders or so-called puppy mills, causing Harnish to convert his business of 10 years into a “more humane model.”

“This is my love; this is my passion, dogs and puppies, so somehow, someway I was going to be involved with them whether we had an ordinance or not,” Harnish said. “It’s not like I was slammed into this, it’s been gradually coming over to this side of the fence.”

He said after speaking to other converted puppy stores, he began to feel more comfortable with the change.

Harnish received help and advice from animal advocate Alan Braslow through the process, as Braslow has already transitioned other pet stores around the state. Prior to the ordinance being passed, The Puppy Stop would have protesters stop by periodically for a couple hours at a time.

“My whole premise is if we’re going to ask somebody to shut down, well maybe there’s a way to change what they’re doing instead. I’m a pro-business person, and this guy is a good businessman,” Braslow said. “We didn’t want to see Mark close. We wanted to see him change sourcing. My goal is to help Mark make sure he has an ongoing supply of puppies to be rescued, because every one that can get to him to be rescued is another one that is not dead.”

On Jan. 31, Harnish and his daughter, Abby, rented a van and made the trip to Jamestown, Tenn., to pick up the first batch of rescued puppies for the newly renovated adoption center. Once they returned and the puppies settled into their pens, separated by breed or litter group, HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service came to examine the 20 dogs. Harnish and HousePaws set up a vaccination plan, the puppies were vaccinated and dewormed, and ready to be adopted.

“We thought we’d have a soft opening on Saturday, Feb. 4, and people came in and that turned out to be a big day,” Harnish said.

Within the first two weeks, 17 of the 20 puppies were adopted.

Braslow and Harnish created an adoption application with the help of an attorney, to ensure those looking to adopt will be responsible and able to take care of the puppies they bring home. The application also requires the individuals to have the dogs spayed or neutered at 6 months old, something Harnish is committed to following up on, he said.

“They’re doing the same thing that your shelters are doing, but I think it’s almost more personalized because they have an interest in every one of these dogs,” Braslow said.

The facility is equipped with containment pens for the puppies, with either sanitized chips or crinkle paper, a bath to wash all of the dogs, an isolation vet room if a dog is sick or feeling distressed, and supplies for new pet owners taking a puppy home. Harnish said he has received donations of supplies such as towels, which have helped with the transition.

“It’s a rescue, but it’s still a business, and there are bills to pay to keep the doors open,” Braslow said. “You have to charge a reasonable fee for the adoption to cover the expenses, but what the customers need to know is that you’re saving a life. Every dog we bring in is a puppy not euthanized because of that, and it replaces puppies that are being factory bred.”

Harnish planned to pick up another batch of rescued puppies from Puerto Rico last week. He and Braslow are also working on identifying other rescues available to reach out to so a consistent schedule can be made to bring more dogs in.

“I went to 25 different rescues in South Jersey and said this was a store, it’s becoming a rescue, they are configured to handle puppies only, they are not a shelter, can you help by providing any puppies?” Braslow said on why the puppies primarily come from the South. “They turned me down saying, ‘we can’t that’s what brings people into our rescue.’ The southern states tend to have a ton of adoptable puppies and nobody down there to adopt them.”

Harnish and Braslow are also planning to create a way for those who have a litter they can’t take care of to surrender them to The Puppy Stop and Adopt.

“We’ve talked about how they can surrender them to Mark, as long as they can sign that they are not getting any remuneration for it, and they are going to spay the mother. If they want the mother back, they would need to agree to have her spayed,” Braslow said.

Harnish said the next step would be to become a non-profit, 501(c)(3), but he wants to make sure he moves at the right pace.

“An advantage of becoming a non-profit is that you can accept donations and people can actually write them off on taxes,” Braslow said.

“I feel good about it. I’m anxious to get into a routine, schedule and some consistency. I think we will,” Harnish said.

Last Wednesday, Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting the restriction of selling dogs and cats from commercial breeding facilities, and encouraged all 24 municipalities in the county to adopt and enforce similar ordinances.

According to Freeholder Daniel Christy, Washington Township is the 11th municipality in the county to pass an ordinance restricting the source of puppies. He said he hopes all 24 municipalities will get on board.

“We want the municipalities to know that, as a county, we are also endorsing this,” Christy said.