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Md. reaches settlement with puppy seller as ban on retail dog sales faces federal appeal

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Friday announced a settlement with an online puppy retailer under the state’s ban on retail dog sales.

The settlement bars the retailer, Maryland Puppies Online LLC, from selling dogs in Maryland. The company agreed to pay for veterinary care or refund customers who bought dogs with certain medical conditions since January 2020, when Maryland’s No More Puppy Mills Act took effect.

Maryland Puppies Online must also pay a civil penalty of $75,000, which would jump to $250,000 if the conditions of the settlement are violated.

A person who answered the phone at the business Friday said it had relocated to Pennsylvania. A request for comment from the owners, Sara and Nathan Bazler, was not returned.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division alleged that Maryland Puppies Online continued to sell puppies after the ban on retail dog sales took effect. The company sold puppies at its store in Bel Air and over the internet, according to the settlement.

“In many puppy mill operations, dogs are treated poorly, are raised in unhealthy living conditions, and suffer poor health,” Frosh said in a news release. “With this settlement in place, eligible consumers can receive refunds if the puppies they bought had a disorder or were seriously ill, the owners will pay a hefty penalty for violating the law, and are prohibited from offering dogs for sale in Maryland.”

Related: Federal appeals court will consider Maryland’s ‘puppy mill’ ban

As part of the settlement, Maryland Puppies Online must provide a list of customers since January 2020 to the Attorney General’s Office. Purchasers who are eligible for refunds will be contacted, the office said.

Maryland’s ban on retail dog sales, which supporters say is aimed at curbing dog breeding at abusive operations known as “puppy mills,” is facing a challenge before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lawmakers passed the No More Puppy Mills Act in 2018 and passed a stricter law in 2021 to close a loophole in the original legislation. The 2018 law survived a federal lawsuit; the current appeal relates to the 2021 law.

The 4th Circuit will decide whether the 2021 law discriminates against out-of-state dog breeders or legitimately restricts sales by “puppy mills.”

The plaintiffs are a group of pet stores, dog breeders and brokers who want the 4th Circuit to overturn U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander’s September 2021 decision dismissing their lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue that the 2021 law made it nearly impossible for out-of-state breeders to sell dogs in Maryland because they cannot sell their dogs at retail stores. In-state breeders can still sell dogs because the law excludes businesses that sell puppies born on the premises from the definition of a “retail pet store.”