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Judge orders dog rescue group, state to stop wrangling, save dogs

Laura Zambito, owner of Precious Pups, a dog

Laura Zambito, owner of Precious Pups, a dog rescue shelter located in Calverton, plays with dogs that because of a court order she is unable to place up for adoption on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

A Calverton dog rescuer and the state attorney general's office are going to try -- with prodding from a Suffolk judge -- to find a way for the rescuer to remain open during an investigation in an attempt to keep dozens of other dogs from being euthanized this week.

The investigation centers on whether sick dogs were adopted from the group.

"We're working on trying to resolve that issue," state Supreme Court Justice Andrew Tarantino Jr. said Monday. If Precious Pups, the rescue group under investigation, is shut down, the roughly 50 dogs a week it now gets from kill shelters in Texas and South Carolina will be put to death, said the organization's attorney, Alan Sash of Manhattan.

Sash said the group would accept any government monitor the attorney general's office wants and would agree to unannounced visits any time. Both sides will return to court Wednesday to attempt to find a solution.

After leaving court in Riverhead Monday, owner Laura Zambito returned to Precious Pups, where about 20 chihuahua mixes in one room vigorously greeted her from their crates.

Assistant attorneys general in the case did not comment, insisting that court officers escort them to their cars for their safety.

Sash said the dispute began with complaints by people who adopted dogs from Precious Pups and said they came in poor condition with falsified veterinary records.

The attorney general's office began investigating and subpoenaed records from Precious Pups, he said.

Sash said the group, acting on poor legal advice from previous lawyers, ignored the subpoena. Last week, the attorney general's office got a temporary restraining order preventing Precious Pups from adopting out any of the 80 dogs it has now or accepting any new dogs.

Sash said the group has now turned over all the records the state sought, so he said there's no reason to allow dogs coming from out of state to be turned back and killed.

"We're just trying to make it so easy for the attorney general's office," Sash said. "We have nothing to hide."

One of the veterinarians who treats Precious Pups dogs, Russ Star of St. James Animal Hospital, came to court in case he was needed to vouch for the group. He said he's seen no sick dogs leave for adoption.

Sash said the state has 20 complaints out of the roughly 1,500 adoptions made by Precious Pups in the past three years, but Assistant Attorney General Rachael Anello said in court the number of complaints has since doubled.

"We're not here to resolve the entire case today," Tarantino said. His goal was to avoid the needless euthanization of dogs, he said. "Let's avoid having them euthanized because of failure to comply with subpoenas."

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