The owner of the Puppy Store, in North Merrick, is fighting animal cruelty charges in court, after Nassau County SPCA detectives allegedly found a malnourished Labrador retriever puppy in a cage in the store’s basement.
Detectives visited the store on Jan. 30 in response to a complaint, according to the SPCA. There, detectives found the caged 6-month-old dog, named Porter, who was unable to walk, SPCA officials said. The dog was taken to a veterinarian.
As of March 2, Porter was still being rehabilitated, according to Gary Rogers, an SPCA spokesman.
Robert Lawrence, 40, of Woodmere, was arrested on March 2 and charged with overdriving, torturing and injuring animals because he allegedly failed to provide the dog with proper veterinary care, according to Miriam Sholder, spokeswoman for the Nassau County district attorney’s office.
The failure to provide veterinary care charge is a Class A misdemeanor, according to SPCA officials, and carries penalties of a fine up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in prison.
Lawrence pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on March 2, and “looks forward to being exonerated in court,” according to his attorney, Michael Alber, of Commack, who told the Herald on Monday that the SPCA’s investigation was rushed.
“Without getting into every aspect of the weakness in the case,” Alber said, “the investigation was poorly done. It was a rush to judgment.”
The dog, according to Alber, was being treated for its medical condition, and “wasn’t being neglected in any shape or form.”
Still, news of Lawrence’s arrest sparked a flood of attacks against the store and its owner on social media. The Companion Animal Rescue Society, a nonprofit anti-animal cruelty group, claimed in a Facebook post that it had investigated the store in the past, and uncovered a puppy mill that it alleges supplied Lawrence with dogs.
Also, a protest, jointly organized by three animal welfare activist groups, is scheduled for outside the store on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s bad enough they’re selling animals from puppy mills,” organizers of the protest wrote. “Zero tolerance for animal abusers and those who profit from animal abuse! There’s nothing else to say, other than, ‘Show up!’”
Alber said that he was aware of the accusations on social media. He said, however, that Lawrence is known locally for running a “fantastic store,” and challenged the online accusers to go public formally.
“I’d ask people to sign their name to a document under punishment of perjury,” Alber said. “I would guarantee they’re not going to do it.”
Lawrence, Alber added, is a family man who donates to many charities, and “would never hurt an animal, ever,” warning residents against rushing to judgment.
“What I would ask people to keep in mind is that accusations are very, very powerful, having the ability to cripple a person,” he said. “We anticipate him being exonerated.”
Lawrence is free on personal recognizance, and is next due in Nassau District Court on March 20.