Updated: Aug 25, 2022
The pet store owners dangled a “commitment” to provide financial aid for Ocoee High School students when they wooed city commissioners to let them continue selling puppies after Orange County's sales ban goes into effect in June.
They have yet to make good.
Chews A Puppy owners Crystal and Nick Grastara outline their company scholarship program for the Ocoee City Commission on Sept. 21. Video: Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli
UPDATE: On June 2, Chews A Puppy posted a press release stating that it had awarded $5,000 apiece to four Ocoee High School seniors to be used for continuing their education at the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Valencia College and Middlebury College. The press release gave no information about the students or the scholarship qualifying criteria.
Six months after the owners of the Chews A Puppy store on West Colonial Drive in Ocoee claimed they would provide an annual $20,000 scholarship fund for students in Ocoee in need of financial aid, there is no evidence the scholarship exists or is even being created.
With high school graduations fast approaching, this is typically the time of year when scholarship winners are announced. However, no such announcement has been forthcoming regarding the store’s scholarship.
Store owner Crystal Grastara announced the scholarship September 21, 2021, before the Ocoee City Commission, saying they were “committing to creating annual scholarship programs in Ocoee in the amount of $20,000.”
At the time, the city commission was debating a proposed ordinance regarding the requirements for the retail sale and care of dogs, cats and rabbits. The city commission approved the ordinance in October — a carve-out that only applied to Chews A Puppy and ensured that similar stores did not open within the city. Critics have claimed there is very little meat in the local ordinance, which is largely self-governing with little oversight. Unlike Orange County, Ocoee does not have an animal control department.
At the September city commission meeting, which was filled with store supporters and critics alike, the Grastaras sought to continue selling puppies despite the county ordinance that would ban retail pet sales. That law goes into effect on June 22.
They cited a rigorous process of breeder-vetting and strong support for the city as their rationale for continued puppy sales. VoxPopuli has previously reported that the store has done business with puppy mills that have been named to the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred List" because of the poor treatment of animals and that have been cited for violations and shut down by state and federal officials.
As an example of their Ocoee boosterism, the couple announced the annual $20,000 scholarships for Ocoee High School students with college dreams. Outlining the scholarship requirements at the time, Crystal Grastara said, “the eligible student must be a resident of the city of Ocoee, Ocoee High School student interested in a college education and can demonstrate financial need.”
No other details about the scholarship have been announced by the Grastaras since September. It is unclear whether their announcement helped sway city commissioners approve the local ordinance in favor of their pet store. However, the city’s attorney, Scott Cookson, has previously said that the Grastaras helped draft the ordinance that governs their operations.
Crystal Grastara and Nick Grastara did not respond to repeated email and phone requests seeking information about the Chews A Puppy scholarship.
Neither Orange County Public Schools, nor Ocoee High School knew about the Chews A Puppy scholarship, according to OCPS spokesperson Michael Ollendorff. He said in an interview that he checked with Ocoee High School and officials there said they “were unaware of the scholarship.”
Ocoee’s city officials have also heard nothing more about the scholarship. When VoxPopuli reached out to Mayor Rusty Johnson, he replied via email that he had “no information on this.”
District 3 Commissioner Richard Firstner told VoxPopuli via text that he spoke with the city manager and code enforcement offices, “...and no one has heard anything about Chews A Puppy’s (scholarship) activities” since that September city commission meeting.
“I really don’t think they will work through the city on anything they promised,” Firstner said.
Firstner, along with District 4 Commissioner George Oliver III, voted against the ordinance that permits Chews A Puppy to continue to sell animals.