SAFETY HARBOR — The smell wafting out the front door of the PuppyLuv pet shop Thursday morning was, in a word, pungent.
Think stale air: warm, ripe and reeking of puppy doo.
But, according to Pinellas County Animal Services, that smell was no cause for alarm.
Animal Services will not be confiscating 56 puppies from a store where authorities were called Thursday morning to investigate allegations of animal neglect.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was called to the pet shop at 2471 McMullen-Booth Road, No. 8, just before 10 a.m.
Building management officials had contacted the Suncoast Animal League after receiving complaints about conditions at the store. That group reported the complaints and deputies found "dozens of dogs in unclean conditions," according to a Sheriff's Office news release.
Some animals were outside in cages and some were in an area that was too small for the number of animals being held, the release said.
But Animal Services did not agree with the Sheriff's Office's determination, according to Linda Britland, the agency's field enforcement manager. Because deputies were standing outside the store before the owner arrived in the morning, the cages had not been cleaned since the end of the previous day, she said, and their water bowls had not been refilled.
The state and smell of the puppy shop was consistent with any kennel first thing in the morning, Britland said. It also appeared that a couple of dogs had managed to escape from their cages, adding to the appearance of disarray in the store, she said.
"It was quite an odor," Britland said. "But it's normal for anybody handling 50 or so animals."
She said Animal Services suggested that, in the future, Bernard Nowakowski, the owner of PuppyLuv, arrive earlier and clean up the kennel entirely before he opens the shop for business.
Nowakowski said officials from Animal Services have checked on his shop several times before, but he has never received a citation for the state of the kennel.
"Is there some poop in the dogs' cages? Well, yes, because we haven't had a chance to clean it up yet," Nowakowski said.
Nowakowski said the PuppyLuv pet store has been at that location for 10 years, but he has only owned the establishment for three months. He says business is booming, claiming his sales have increased eightfold in the last month.
But Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Suncoast Animal League, was not impressed with the store. He had been inside the building. He called the conditions "disgusting" and said the smell was "atrocious."
Part of the smell could have been the overnight accumulation of feces, Chaboudy said, but he remained skeptical that a single night could create that kind of stench.
"I think one of the reasons why the puppies weren't removed today was because everything that occurred has an explanation," Chaboudy said. "But we're all disappointed that there was not more that could have been done today."
When it comes to pet shop animal neglect, one of the biggest challenges is legislation, Chaboudy said. Laws concerning the abuse of animals in pet stores are much too vague, he said. That prevents Animal Services from removing pets from stores in all but the worst cases.
But, according to Chaboudy, it's not over yet: He said he and other members of the Suncoast Animal League will continue to keep a close eye on PuppyLuv in the coming weeks.
"This is one of those moments being in this business that is really frustrating," Chaboudy said. "This is wrong. Leaving them in there right now — we're not doing right by the dogs."