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DNR cracks down on frog trade

November 21, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Five frogs, each the size of a quarter and selling for less than $6, may end up costing a Hagerstown pet store $120.

Pugh's Petcetera, on Pennsylvania Avenue, was slapped with the fine on Friday for selling green treefrogs without a permit, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Agents from the department this week cited 24 pet shops across Maryland for selling reptiles without a permit. The fines concluded a six-month investigation of the state's pet store industry.

"This operation was important because it sends a message to the pet industry that the sale of native species must be in accordance with state law," said Glenn Therres, the department's wildlife biologist in charge of reptile and amphibian conservation.

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Douglas Pugh, who owns Pugh's Petcetera, said he was unaware of the regulation and would have had a permit had he known. He said he has not decided whether to pay the fine or fight the action in court.

"I've been operating my business for 23 years and I was really surprised by it," he said. "I would have felt that a warning would have been sufficient."

Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the department, said the Natural Resources Police launched "Operation Pet Shop" in May in response to periodic complaints. He said agents looked up pet stores in the phone book and visited them in search of violations.

"Actually, there's quite a black market for native species," he said.

McIntire said the pet stores that violated the law were probably a combination of those who were cheating and those who were ignorant of the law.

Most of the violators were stores that were selling reptiles without a permit. A pet store can obtain the $25 permit by writing to the permits coordinator of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Pugh said agents came into his store about three days ago when he was not there and spotted the green treefrogs.

As soon as he was cited on Friday, Pugh said he placed a sign by the frogs marking them not for sale. The frogs sold for $5.98 apiece and Pugh said the store does not sell many of them.

"It doesn't make or break the pet shop," he said.

Pugh said he plans to move the frogs to his pet store in Chambersburg, Pa., where a permit is not required.

Pugh said the frog, which is green and ranges in size from about a quarter to a half-dollar, makes a great pet for children.

"They're neat pets. They're easy to care for. They're hearty," he said.

One of the stores was charged with more serious charges on possession of an endangered species, McIntire said. The Critter Corral in Greensboro, Md., faces a charge of possession of an alligator, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000.

In addition, the Gaithersburg Pet Center, which was selling spiny softshell turtles, and Apet of Annapolis, which was selling barking treefrogs, were cited with selling protected species of reptiles, McIntire said.

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