One of the 24 puppies that Michael Staley, husband of North Puppies pet store owner Tammy Staley, allegedly dumped in the woods in western Clinton County.
PLATTSBURGH—While an impromptu protest was gaining strength outside her Plattsburgh Plaza pet shop, Northern Puppies’ owner Tammy Staley wanted her side of the story to be heard.
Staley was arrested for 20 counts of cruelty to animals on July 10, after a spot inspection by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets discovered one dead kitten, and several in what they determined were unsuitable conditions. The kittens, along with two adult chow dogs, were seized, leaving Staley with 30 dogs. She was barred by the Department of Agriculture from selling, giving away or euthanizing the dogs.
Staley doesn’t believe in crating her animals, even at night. Instead she had pens built at her shop, where numerous puppies and kittens were housed in the pens at any given time, puppies separate from kittens.
“Have you ever had a litter of puppies? When you wake up in the morning, what do you wake up to?” Staley asked.
Staley said that when she and her employees get to the store each morning, typically the first thing they do is to clean up any feces the puppies and kittens had made during the night, which was sometimes all over the pens, and fill up water and food bowls.
“Every morning that’s what we come in to - a mess,” she said.
That’s what Staley claims one of her employees came in to find on the morning of July 10. When a customer followed her in that morning to purchase a Rottweiler, she didn’t have a chance to clean the pens. Then inspectors from the Department of Agriculture showed up for an unannounced inspection, and found the animals in this messy condition.
Her problems, she says, were compounded by the discovery of a dead kitten that morning.
“A month ago we took in five litters of sick kittens. We had five litters in two days,” Staley said. “We called our vet, we had her come in. She did some tests, it came back that some of them had coccidia, some had ringworm, so we were treating them for that.”
The kittens were quarantined in large, 250 gallon aquarium tanks, according to Staley. Overnight, one of the kittens died — a reality that she says happens fairly frequently with litters of kittens. Two other kittens from those litters had died a couple days prior to that.
“So when they walk back there they see a dead kitten. The state walks in, they see a dead kitten, so that doesn’t look good right off the bat. Even though it’s nothing we could have prevented, it’s a dead kitten, it’s got to be dealt with,” she said. “The litter boxes were obviously full, they needed to be changed and stuff. Some of the cats were out of food and water.”
But for an hour or so to clean up and to report the dead kitten, her life, she feels, would not have taken the turn it did.
In the firestorm of publicity following her arrest, Staley says she lost up to 95 percent of her business. With payroll still to meet, and the 30 dogs to care for, not to mention five children at home to feed, things were turning desperate.
Then, on Aug. 4, her situation took another turn for the worst when her husband Michael allegedly staged a burglary at the store, took 24 puppies and dumped them at numerous locations around western Clinton County. It was a move of desperation, Tammy said. A move, she said, she was not aware of before-hand.
“I’m mad at him, but I understand where he’s coming from,” she said, the wear of the previous few days and weeks apparent in her voice.
“I think in my husband’s eyes, he sees me crying, he sees me depressed. He knows that we’re not taking in any money. He figures ‘no puppies, no problems.’”
“He’s not a bad guy.”
If Michael didn’t want the puppies to be found, she contends, he could have killed them and disposed of their bodies.
Staley said her husband’s plan was to drop off the puppies near homes, where he felt they would be found and hopefully adopted by North Country families. That’s why, she feels, so many of the 24 puppies have been found.
“I think the ones that haven’t been found, it’s because someone gave them a home. Some people got thousand dollar dogs for free.”
Staley feels confident that her case will be dropped by the Clinton County District Attorney’s office. Her next court date is scheduled for Aug. 22. Officials at the district attorney’s office would not comment on the case since it is still pending, but did state that Tammy and Michael’s cases would be handled separately.
Calls to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets have gone unreturned.
Tammy’s hope, she says, is that once her case is dropped, she’ll be able to get her license back and she can re-open, possibly in a smaller store in another location.
“I just pray that when people see that (I’m) not guilty, they’ll come back and give us a chance,” she said.
“I don’t give up that easily.”
So far 19 of the 24 missing puppies have been located.