New Jersey has one of the strongest pet protection laws in America but it is not doing what it was supposed to do: Give prospective buyers information about the dogs and cats they’re considering getting from shops.

New Jersey’s amended Pet Purchase Protection Act requires pet stores to identify the breeders of the animals they sell. It also bans dogs and cats form being sold from breeders that have been cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act. But some consumers are having a hard time getting information about those breeders.

Information used to be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but that’s no longer the case.

Kathleen Schatzmann, the chief operating officer of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, says for reasons that are still unclear, the USDA removed a great deal of breeder information from its website last year.

She explained this information is very important because “the puppies that are being sold in pet stores are coming from large-scale breeding facilities known as puppy mills, and often-times those facilities have multiple violations.”

“That’s why it was essential for the consumer to be able to look on the USDA website and find out what those infractions were.”

Government officials insist the information has been blocked because of federal privacy rules but many animal welfare groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, believe this is completely untrue and are challenging the suppression of information in lawsuits.

Schatzmann said it’s possible to get information from the USDA about a breeder but you may have to use the Freedom of Information Act, which can take months.

She pointed out dogs from puppy mills are frequently genetically inbred, which means they have hereditary illnesses.

“This costs not only heartache, but thousands of dollars in medical bills for those unwitting consumers," she said.

So what should you do if you’re looking to add a pet to your family?

“The only way you can be sure you’re not buying a sick puppy is by not going to these pet stores and buying an animal," she said. “We are really encouraging people not to purchase their animals without going in person, finding that responsible breeder or of course visiting their local shelter.”

She pointed out “there are always mixed breeds, pure breeds, wonderful animals that are up for adoption, just don’t go visit those pet stores.”

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com