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Calverton dog rescue group must shut down, 2 directors banned from animal work

Laura Zambito, owner of Precious Pups, a dog

Laura Zambito, owner of Precious Pups, a dog rescue shelter located in Calverton, is seen playing with dogs on Aug. 25, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

A Calverton dog rescue group accused of selling sick animals has been ordered to shut down and its operators have been barred from any animal-related activity, the state attorney general's office said Saturday.

The settlement ends the state probe that began last summer into 50 or so complaints against Precious Pups and owner Laura Zambito and vice president Rosemary Torrillo-Hooghkirk.

The two women were illegally "flipping" the dogs from shelters for $200 to $600, sending them out as healthy though some were sick with mange, distemper or other ailments, state authorities said. Some dogs died, some had to be euthanized, and others got well after their owners spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care, officials said.

Zambito, 43, of Lake Ronkonkoma, and Torrillo-Hooghkirk, 61, of Calverton, will have to pay $24,000, some of which will go to owners of the adopted dogs, according to the settlement, signed Thursday and filed in state Supreme Court in Riverhead. If the consent order is violated, Zambito also will have to pay $20,000, court papers said.

The judge in the case also ordered the pair to dissolve the Canine Placement Agency, which state officials said was created while Precious Pups was closed for the investigation.

"Our clients have agreed not to discuss the underlying facts of the settlement," Jack Piana, the attorney for both women, said in an email Friday night. "We are happy that this issue is resolved, and that this ordeal is behind them."

Precious Pups' attorney, Alan Sash of Manhattan, had previously said the nonprofit adopted out 1,500 pets in three years, indicating that 50 complaints is not high.

Under the deal, Zambito and Torrillo-Hooghkirk did not admit any liability but agreed to refrain from all animal-related activities, including volunteering, selling medicines, soliciting funds for rescue groups and training canines.

"Pets are companions and important members of many New York families," Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a news release. "Consumers deserve to know that their puppies were healthy and raised in a safe place."


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