Precious Pups stays closed, and state AG must act by Sept. 10, orders judge

A Suffolk judge ordered the Calverton dog rescue organization to remained closed while the state attorney general's office investigates claims of deceptive practices, but says the state must act by Sept. 10. (Credit: Newsday Chuck Fadely)

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A Suffolk judge Wednesday ordered a Calverton dog rescue organization to remain closed while the state attorney general's office investigates claims of deceptive practices, but said the state must act by Sept. 10.

Several other shelters have also agreed to accept any scheduled shipments of dogs, ensuring that none will be put to death, said Assistant Attorney General Rachael Anello.

The attorney general's office and other dog rescuers critical of the group expressed relief with state Supreme Court Justice Andrew Tarantino Jr.'s decision.

"We are pleased that the court today has kept its order in place preventing the sale or transfer of animals by Precious Pups while the case remains in litigation," said Casey Aguglia, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. "We will continue to do all we can to protect the interests of pet owners and animals in this matter."

Tarantino said his goal was to speed the investigation of Precious Pups Rescue and its owner, Laura Zambito, and to ensure that the group complies with a subpoena from the attorney general's office seeking veterinary, financial and other records.

"This is not a finding of wrongdoing by Miss Zambito or Precious Pups," Tarantino said. He allowed Precious Pups to keep the roughly 80 dogs it has, but it may not adopt or sell them. It also may not accept new dogs before Sept. 10.

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"This really in effect shuts down Precious Pups," said the group's attorney, Alan Sash. "I think it's unfortunate."

Anello provided Tarantino with affidavits from nine of about 30 people who have filed complaints with her office. The affidavits include people who adopted dogs from Precious Pups with serious health and behavior problems.

In one complaint, Michael Savini describes being hurried in April 2013 into paying $400 for Willie, a West Highland terrier-poodle mix, only to find that he was blind in one eye and had fluid on his brain, which would prevent him from ever being housebroken. Savini said he has spent more than $4,000 in medical care on Willie.

In another, Lisa Mackie reported paying $300 in May 2013 for Chewey, a Lhasa apso mix. Chewey turned out to be so aggressive that he attacked Mackie four times, finally biting her face and ripping her arm open. Mackie wrote in her statement that Chewey was euthanized in August 2013.

Sash said the nine affidavits represented less than 0.1 percent of the 1,500 dogs Precious Pups has placed in homes, not enough to justify shutting down the group.

The shutdown is the result of Zambito's failure to comply with the attorney general's subpoena in June. Even now, Anello said her office does not have all the documents it demanded.

Others who came to court praised the ruling. Deborah Maffettone of West Babylon, who said she is a dog rescuer, accused Zambito of "flipping" dogs for profit, rather than rescuing them. "Rescue is not a business," she said.

The legal dispute has played out against an increasingly vitriolic campaign online in which Zambito defends herself from her detractors and denies their accusations. A Facebook page calling for Precious Pups to be shut down has served as a clearinghouse of complaints.

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Yesterday Maffettone on her own Facebook page urged others, in capital letters, to "take up your spiritual sword and fight!"

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