The name of the proposed pet shop on York Road in Towson is Just Puppies.
Beyond that, things get a little complicated.
Residents, including representatives of private shelters, want to block the store, part of a family-operated chain that includes a Laurel outlet, because it plans to stock up to 60 puppies at a time. The opponents say the store cannot provide such a high volume of dogs without resorting to "puppy mills" -- large commercial breeders that produce dogs more prone to disease and temperament problems.
"Everyone at every shelter is looking at this and saying, `Oh, I see a catastrophe,'" said Frank C. Branchini, executive director of the Baltimore County Humane Society. He has taken part in a letter-writing campaign that has led to a half-inch-thick folder of Just Puppies correspondence at the office of County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, with outraged notes coming from as far as Florida and Tennessee.
But the store's founders, through their Web site, say they do not buy from puppy mills. An employee at the Laurel store reiterated that stand last week but said the store has made it a policy not to respond to any allegations about its practices.
Branchini's complaints would have no formal forum if Just Puppies, which would open south of the Baltimore Beltway, did not need a zoning variance because it would be within 200 feet of a residential zone. A zoning commissioner approved an area variance for the store in August. The decision was appealed by the people's counsel for Baltimore County, and the Board of Appeals is expected to issue a ruling Dec. 14.
But the action has nothing to do with Just Puppies and its business practices, said Peter M. Zimmerman, who filed the appeal. His concern is that the store needs a use variance -- and under law, Baltimore County doesn't grant use variances. He also argues that Just Puppies did not meet the standards for the area variance.
The nearby residential zone includes the Beltway cloverleaf and the Maj. Gen. Harry C. Ruhl National Guard Armory, said Howard L. Alderman Jr., the Towson lawyer who represents the property's owner, Timothy Quigg, and Just Puppies operator, Mitchell Thomson.
"The case has some unique circumstances," he said. But when asked about the opposition's litany of complaints about Just Puppies, Alderman said: "This is a zoning variance case. What these people think about this particular case is based on emotion, not on zoning law."
Branchini testified at a hearing Nov. 2 hearing on Just Puppies that he didn't want the store anywhere in Baltimore County, with or without a zoning variance.
Many large national chains have stopped selling dogs, in part because of the efforts of animal rights groups.