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Lawsuit says local shops sell sick and dying canines from puppy mills

Discussion in 'Pet News' started by testmg80, Jul 6, 2009.

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    testmg80 PetForums VIP

    Jul 29, 2008
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    By Susannah Bryan South Florida Sun-Sentinel
    2:36 PM EDT, July 5, 2009

    BOYNTON BEACH - It was love at first sight.

    Those sad puppy dog eyes said one thing: "Take me home. Please, please, please."

    Despite the $1,550 price tag, Taylor Sager couldn't resist.

    "I just looked at her and I knew she was the one for me," said the Boynton Beach resident. Without a second thought, she paid full price and brought the English bulldog home.

    But within days, her adorable 13-week-old Charlie Brown became lethargic. The 15-pound female pup developed diarrhea and cherry eye, a congenital condition that can require surgery to correct.

    Sager, 51, complained to the seller, Best Price Pups in Hallandale Beach. She was told all sales are final, a violation of the state's pet lemon law, said Robin Hellman, the attorney representing Sager and five other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the store.

    "Puppies are dying within days or weeks of being purchased," Hellman said. "According to the pet lemon law, they have to reimburse these people, which they have refused to do."

    Hellman, who filed suit in Broward Circuit Court in mid-June, accuses the store's owners of buying dogs from puppy mills in Latin America.

    Store manager Connie Longman, one of four defendants in the case, denied the allegation, saying the puppies are supplied by private breeders within the United States. Longman declined to answer questions about Sager's puppy.

    Charlie Brown was recuperating this week after undergoing surgery Wednesday on her right eye. "She's doing good," Sager said with relief. At one point, she feared the dog would die.

    Every year, 4 million puppies are sold by puppy mills to buyers at pet stores and over the Internet, said Kathleen Summers, a spokeswoman with the Humane Society of the United States.

    An estimated 500,000 breeding dogs live out their entire existence inside cramped and sometimes filthy wire cages, receiving little to no medical care, exercise or human interaction. When the dogs are no longer fertile, they are often destroyed or discarded.

    "They're the real victims," Summers said. "The puppies are only there for eight weeks or so" before they are shipped out for sale.

    Experts urge consumers to buy from local animal shelters, rescue groups or reputable breeders. Make sure to visit the breeding facility to meet the puppies and their parents.

    "You want them to be clean and healthy and happy," Summers said. "And you want them to be living in the home, not in cages or outdoor facilities. There are good breeders out there. It's just a matter of buyer beware."

    Virtually all puppy shops are buying from puppy mills, Summers said.

    "They need a steady supply of puppies. In order to get that, they are usually buying from these commercial breeders that have rows and rows of cages. The [dogs] are farmed like any farm animal" and treated like a cash crop.

    As many as 10,000 puppy mills are operating throughout the country, Summers said. Almost every state has puppy mills, but the biggest are in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Some states, heeding the ire of animal activists, are leading the charge to crack down on puppy mills. They include Indiana, Louisiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

    A bill that failed to pass during the recent session of the Florida Legislature would have limited to 50 the number of breeding dogs allowed at a commercial breeding facility.

    In the meantime, animal activists are staging protests at Petland stores throughout the country.

    Boca Raton resident Elena Brodskaya helps organize monthly protests at the Petland store in Deerfield Beach, where she says the puppies are kept in wire cages with no bedding or blankets.

    "They sit there absolutely listless," she said. "They have no toys. They mostly sit there sleeping. You don't know if they're dead or alive."

    With 140 stores nationwide, Petland officials say they do not buy from puppy mills. Still, the chain has become the target of a federal lawsuit filed in March by members of the Humane Society of the United States. The lawsuit, filed in Phoenix , accuses Petland Inc. and The Hunte Corp. of selling sick or dying puppy mill puppies to consumers in numerous states, violating federal law and numerous state consumer protection laws. Lawyers are seeking class action status for the suit.

    Humane Society officials say more than 600 people who bought sick dogs from Petland are hoping to join it as plaintiffs.

    Cooper City resident Lori Tacher, 42, is one of them.

    In November, her husband paid $1,200 for a boxer puppy from the Petland store in Pembroke Pines.

    "When we got him, the dog was all bones," Tacher said. Turns out he had kennel cough, hookworms and a heart murmur.

    Heartbroken, Tacher contacted the store. "They said if he dies, they'll give me my money back."

    A manager at the store declined to comment.

    So far, Kaos is thriving in his new home, but he is in desperate need of a heart specialist. Tacher said her family can't afford to spend thousands on testing and treatments.

    "He may die tomorrow," Tacher said. "We don't know how bad his heart is. But I love him."

    Tacher said she and her husband are left with a sweet, loving puppy and one hard-earned lesson:

    "I will never ever buy from a puppy store again."

    Susannah Bryan can be reached at sebryan@SunSentinel.com or 954-572-2077.

    Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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