William C. Roberts, 57, Gloucester County, NJ, is well known to New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse, an industry watchdog group, they have been watching him for years and pressuring authorities to do something about him selling sick puppy mill dogs to unwary customers. Until now, they have never been able to get any evidence against him because he never let anyone into his home, all his puppy sales were strictly cash and took place out of his vehicle in parking lots or on street corners or at the buyer’s homes.
“We heard about him five years ago, when people started to complain. What he would do is sell sick dogs, give people medication for the dogs or take the dogs back and eventually stop returning phone calls. But he would never return their money,” Libby Williams, president of New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse said.
“The problem is he would never let you go to his home, so it was difficult to get grounds for investigations. He’d meet you at the Wawa or a supermarket or something,” she said.
Investigator Theresa Cooper from the NJSPCA finally managed to put together a case against Roberts based on complaints from 5 people who purchased puppies from him. Sgt. Jane Donoghue, also from the NJSPCA, then posed as a buyer, purchased a cockapoo from Roberts for $400 and had the dog inspected by a veterinarian, Goldberg said.
“The dog we purchased was sick, carrying communicable diseases, which is the basis of the fourth-degree charge against Roberts,” he said.
On Saturday, the NJSPCA executed warrants on William Roberts’ home in Franklinville in South Jersey, where they found 28 puppies crammed into cages in a basement closet.
“When I opened the closet, it was about 85 degrees in there. No ventilation. The dogs were covered in feces and sick. There were seven to a cage,” said Sy Goldberg, the society’s lieutenant colonel.
The puppies were taken to the Columbus Central Veterinary Hospital in Burlington County, where they are being examined and evaluated. The dogs were mostly mixed breeds, but also included poodles, Malteses, terriers and Shih Tzus, said Lynn Pasquarella, manager at the hospital.
The owner of the home, 57-year-old William C. Roberts, was charged with a fourth-degree criminal offense of willfully selling an animal with a communicable disease — a charge related to an undercover probe that led to yesterday morning’s raid.
The NJSPCA said additional charges related to failing to properly care for the animals will be filed, and that federal and state agencies are being notified of other potential violations of animal, health and criminal laws.
Goldberg said the society also uncovered evidence Roberts had illegally distributed medications that only veterinarians are licensed to provide.
“We sent undercover agents in three weeks ago to buy a dog from him. We began an investigation after people notified us that he was selling dogs that were sick, dogs he purchased in Lancaster,” Goldberg said, referring to a Pennsylvania county notorious for its puppy mills.
Puppy mill dogs, bred en masse like livestock, often carry genetic disorders that shorten their lives or result in the animals becoming infirm and crippled. Many also have diseases that are easily spread to other animals.
Knowingly selling sick dogs is illegal in New Jersey.
Roberts ran a cash-only business and, by not selling from his home, avoided laws that govern animal breeders and commercial pet shops, Goldberg said.
“He told us he sold about 40 dogs per month. We’re not sure what he would pay for these dogs, but he sold them for $400 to $500 a piece and made about $200,000 a year doing it, and he’s been at it since 2002,” he said.
Goldberg said Roberts would tell customers not to take sick puppies to veterinarians. Instead, Goldberg said, he would provide medication, and actually “popped a pill” in the mouth of the dog sold to NJSPCA agents.
The NJSPCA said the puppies seized yesterday were suffering from upper respiratory disorders, were infested with lice and fleas, had hookworm and many other disorders. Pasquarella said yesterday the puppies were being X-rayed for pneumonia and most had diarrhea. (NJ.com)
Now Roberts faces up to a year and a half in prison and fines of more than $7,500 for charges that he willfully sold animals with contagious diseases.
“There are many issues at hand here beyond the neglect. He was operating an illegal business out of his home and he was dispensing medication without authorization. We will deal with the animal cruelty statutes and other charges will ultimately be handled by the Department of Justice,” said SPCA spokesman Matthew Stanton.
Roberts also did not have a kennel license, which is required of those who are selling, boarding or breeding dogs, nor did he have licenses for the individual dogs.
Authorities said the dogs seized yesterday were bought from two Lancaster, Pa., puppy mills. Anyone who may have purchased a dog from Roberts is being asked to contact Cooper at (800) 582-5979.
The NJSPCA is accepting donations to help the animals. Donors can log on to the agency website at njspca.org or send a check made out to the NJSPCA and marked “for the care of the Franklinville puppies” to the NJSPCA at 1119 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, N.J., 88901.