Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos has moved to stop an organization formed by the Dan Cosgrove Animal Commission from airing a 30-minute video about puppy mills on the town’s BCTV public-access channel under the auspices of a town commission.
The video is scheduled to start airing on Wednesday, Sept 18, at 8:30 p.m. and again on Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. in conjunction with National Puppy Mill Awareness Day on Sept. 22.
On Friday, DaRos asked the town attorney to send a cease and desist letter to Lori Nicholson, the animal commission’s chair, and six commission members telling them to remove the animal commission’s name “from all material associated in any way with this Branford Says No organization,” a website that contains a short video on puppy mills and gives the commission’s position and purpose. Click here to see the website. It advocates against puppies bred in factory-style “mills” being sold in retail pet stores.
The only store in Branford that sells puppies for retail profit is All Pet’s Club at 479 East Main St. By late Friday the owner told DaRos he intended to sue the town if the video aired, DaRos told the Eagle.
All Pets Club has been the site of many demonstrations in recent years as protestors condemned its sale of puppy mill dogs, often shipped by truck from mid-western states to the store. In 2011 and 2012 demonstrators pressed hard for customers to boycott the store. At one point there was a Parvo outbreak that stopped the sale of puppies at the store during the Christmas season. Click here to read the story. Then there is the story of Isabella, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel purchased from All Pets in 2007. This issue is not new.
DaRos said he believes individual or organized protest outside a store is one thing. What is new, he said, if for a town commission to take action that is directly or indirectly aimed against a licensed business. That, he said, raises a whole new set of legal issues.
The BranfordSaysNo website, Facebook and twitter pages were created sometime in 2013. The website and Facebook pages refer to the town’s animal commission, an entity appointed by the Board of Selectmen to serve four year terms. Shelter employees and Laura Burban, the director of the shelter, are not involved in this action.
Cease and Desist Letter
Town Counsel William H. Clendenen Jr. sent the cease and desist letter dated Sept. 13 to Nicholson and the six commission members, saying the commission was acting without permission from the town.
“The first selectman has made it clear to the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter Commission that the town of Branford does not support the commission’s use of its name in connection with this organization,” the letter states.
“Indeed the commission is a town body and should therefore not be acting or speaking on behalf of the town without the town’s permission to do so. The town certainly has not authorized the commission to have any involvement with the Branford Says No organization. ”
The letter states emphatically that “the commission and any commission member purporting to officially act on behalf of the town or the commission or the shelter must cease any such activity immediately. Accordingly you must immediately remove the commission’s name from all material associated in any with this BranfordSaysNo organization. Thank you for cooperation.”
Reached last night, Nicholson said “We are going to comply, absolutely with the attorney’s letter. We can still air the video as long as we remove any references to the town or the commission because as individuals we have freedom of speech rights. And we are not saying anything wrong either.
“I am going to comply because it is the right thing to do. I don’t want the town to get into a lawsuit. Nothing could be gained by the town being sued.” She said she had the backing of the commissioners she had contacted individually.
The letter was the first step in the town’s effort to remove the town’s connection to the video. If the commission refused, it would have faced further legal action. DaRos said the town was studying several options but did not elaborate.
At issue was the potential legal liability the town faced because Nicholson linked the commission and the town to her advocacy efforts to end the sale of puppy mill animals at All Pets Club in Branford. The commissioners are volunteers. The store’s owners say they are not selling puppy mill dogs; records have indicated otherwise. Nicholson maintains the video’s purpose is to inform and to educate the public; DaRos said he was concerned that lobbying efforts in her official capacity as chair of a non-profit organization was setting the town up to be sued.
The Role of North Branford
DaRos said he first learned about the 30-minute video from Anthony Candelora, the mayor of North Branford, who called him after he met with Jerry Pleban, the owner of All Pets Club. Pleban discussed the troubles he is facing in Branford. North Branford is a part of the Cosgrove Animal Shelter.
Candelora said in a recent article in the New Haven Register that he had nothing but a fine experience with All Pets Club, the place where he purchased his own dog. He said the Cosgrove commissioners should not be dictating where people can buy their dogs, and he offered to find All Pets Club a prime location in his town if the owners want to move, the article said. Pleban is considering moving.
DaRos then met with Nicholson and learned in detail about the video during a meeting he held with Nicholson and Robert Worrell, a commission board member, in his office Tuesday. DaRos told her during their Sept. 10 meeting that he did not want the video to air unless he first saw it.
“I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with you doing what you are doing as individuals. But you can’t use your title as commissioner. You can‘t be using the name of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter. That is a town entity. Consequently you are putting the town in jeopardy.’ And I told her, ‘I want to see the film before you air it.’ To this day I have not seen that film. They said they would give me a copy before they did anything else. And I haven’t seen a copy.”
Late Thursday DaRos contacted town counsel’s office, and a decision was made to send the cease and desist letters.
All Pets to Sue if Video is Aired
Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon as the cease and desist letter was in its final stage of preparation, DaRos told the Eagle that Pleban, the owner of All Pets Club, called him to say that he planned to sue the town if the video aired. DaRos described Pleban as very upset. Pleban asserted that the commission’s activities had led his business to decline.
“He said if this goes on [the airing of the video], he has no choice but to sue the town of Branford. It has to stop. Otherwise I have no choice I have lost 8 percent of my business since they began doing this,” DaRos quoted him as saying. Pleban could not be reached for comment today. His voice mailbox was full and was not accepting messages.
By late Friday afternoon DaRos said Nicholson still had not delivered the video to him. She later explained to the Eagle that the video was not yet completed and that is why she had not delivered it to the first selectman. She plans to show him the final version, she said last night.
In an interview with the Eagle, DaRos said Nicholson sought no legal advice before starting the Branford Says No website.
Nicholson told the Register she would make her case on TV and online media after the Commission’s initial effort for a new ordinance that would ban the retail sale of puppies and other animals in Branford was tabled by the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in July. Click here to read the story. The RTM said it would await the findings of a state appointed task force that is now studying the same issues. The task force is due to report in January or February 2014.
“There is a task force and that is where they should be putting their energy,” DaRos said. “My argument is regardless of what you think of this business, you cannot single out a specific business. It is the wrong way to do it. Besides the liability involved, it is just not right.”
DaRos, who was the force behind the creation of Branford’s first animal shelter a decade ago, said Nicholson would not be doing anything “for the animals because the owner and his business could just move to another town. So what did you accomplish for the animals at the end of the day? Nothing. Other than get your name in the paper. What have you accomplished?” he said, his voice rising.
He quoted Nicholson as saying: “We are not going to get sued.” Nicholson is not an attorney. She first came on the state political scene in 2012 when she ran unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket against Rep. Lonnie Reed, a Democrat, for state representative. Previously she had run but failed to win a seat on the Branford Board of Education. She told the Eagle that going door to door during the campaign she learned how many dogs reside in Branford. She believes this is the town to lead the crusade, she said.
Nicholson wants All Pets Club to abide by an economic model that is not dependent upon puppy mills but that is of no interest to Phelan who runs four large pet stores in Connecticut.
In July, the city of San Diego joined more than two dozen municipalities across the nation, including Los Angeles, to ban the retail sale of dogs. The ordinance makes it unlawful for pet shops and other retail businesses to display, sell or even give away live dogs, cats or rabbits—unless the animals are obtained by an animal shelter, an animal-control agency, a humane society or a nonprofit rescue organization, the new law states.
This is the model Nicholson is advocates and it is one that many other pet stores in Connecticut follow. But there is no requirement that Pleban follow that model for his stores in Branford, Wallingford, North Windham and Southington.
The Connecticut Humane Society says that about 90 to 95 percent of the animals on the Connecticut Humane Society’s website come from puppy mills, a problem that appears to be nationwide. It is one of the reasons why cities and towns are adopting new economic models for pet stores.