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Outcry erupts over new Columbia store selling puppies

The opening of Charm City Puppies, a store in Columbia that sells purebred and other boutique puppies, as well as pet accessories, has prompted an online protest by some area residents.

The family-owned store, which displays expensive puppies in cribs, has galvanized a local movement against puppy shops. The shops, opponents say, help keep "puppy mills" in business at a time when an overabundance of dogs at shelters is forcing those animals to be euthanized.

The owner of the store says the animals he sells have been bred and handled humanely.

"There's definitely going to be an educational demonstration," said Julianne Brown of Linthicum, leader of the fledgling movement opposing puppy shops. She said the group is not focusing exclusively on the Columbia store and wants to stage events elsewhere that promote adoptions of animals from shelters and rescue organizations.

"We would just like them to change their business model from the antiquated model they have now to incorporate adopting out shelter puppies," Brown said.

Store owner Tony Cossentino disputed any implication that he is trading in puppies bred in poor conditions.

"We would never deal with any breeders that have substandard kennel conditions, with no exceptions. We encourage anyone who wants to find out for themselves to come in and see how much pride we take in our store. We have nothing to hide," Cossentino said in an email. He declined to comment further.

In the past month, an online petition calling for Charm City Puppies to end puppy sales has gathered more than 870 signatures. That stemmed from an article on Patch.com that announced the opening of Charm City Puppies and criticism of the store in the website's public comments section after the article appeared.

Brown said the shop's owners haven't taken her up on her offer to speak with them.

"We will continue to keep that olive branch extended," she said. "In the meantime, our goal is to start educating. If we can't change the business, we are going to start educating the consumers."

On a recent visit, the store displayed about 10 puppies — mostly small purebreds and popular cross-bred puppies. Toward the back of the store were places where customers could play with the dogs. Pet toys, clothing and collars were among the accessories for sale.

Commenters have suggested online that people complain to the store's owner and landlord. They say responsible breeders do not provide puppies for sale at stores and carefully screen would-be buyers. They also argue that people who buy dogs at pet stores lack information about breeders and their kennels.

"There is real outrage, but it is not all directed at this particular store," Brown said, noting that stores throughout the state sell puppies. "Right now, we are basically trying to start some sort of grass-roots coalition."

She has begun to form a nonprofit organization that she plans to call Relove.

She said she wants to ensure that whatever actions her group takes fall within the law. Ideas include having opponents of the stores "gather in a public place, have signs, voice our opinions about puppy mills and hand out educational brochures." That would be done in the vicinity of stores that sell puppies.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would require stores selling dogs to post information about where their animals come from .

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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