Breaking! HSUS Undercover Investigation Reveals Chronic Problem With Sick & Dead Puppies at Petland Stores

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A sick golden retriever in the Michigan Petland store. Credit: HSUS 2019

Between September 2018 and April 2019, undercover investigators from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) worked at six different Petland stores, revealing that Petland employees and managers routinely failed to take sick puppies promptly to a veterinarian. Puppies died in some of the stores without being taken to a veterinary hospital for severe illness.

Today, the HSUS released new information on Petland stores that were investigated in Sarasota, Florida, Novi, Michigan, and Tyler, Texas. The HSUS also recently exposed issues at three other Petland stores that were investigated in Kennesaw, Georgia, Las Vegas, and Fairfax, Virginia. At all six locations, they found sick puppies, with conditions ranging from seizures and respiratory infections to diarrhea and vomiting.

“Our investigations have revealed a distressing trend in Petland stores across the country: sick and dying animals who desperately need help being peddled to deceived customers,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, in a statement. “Our investigations have linked Petland to cruel puppy mills and even a rabbit mill. If you want to bring a new pet into your life, the best place to start is a reputable shelter or rescue, not a pet store which puts profits over the welfare of the animals.”

Key heartbreaking scenes HSUS investigators witnessed at the three new locations include:

In the Tyler, Texas, Petland store:

A brown Chihuahua named Jade started having seizures, but wasn’t taken to a veterinary hospital for almost a week. At that point she was unable to recover and was eventually euthanized. A distressed staff member told our investigator that the store’s owner rarely takes sick puppies to the vet, stating, “He doesn’t want to pay that extra money. So really, most of the dogs that go to the vet end up dying because we take them [at the] last minute.”

Tyler, Texas Petland store. Panda the Shih Tzu puppy found dead in the freezer. HSUS reported to local law enforcement. Credit: HSUS, 2018

An investigator found the body of a black and white shih tzu puppy in the freezer. “Panda ” was one of a litter of three puppies who originally appeared healthy, but got sick after being put in a back room with other sick animals due to overcrowding in the store. None of the three sick shih tzus were taken to a veterinary hospital in a timely manner. Eventually, Panda died, one littermate went to a vet, and the other recovered in the store and was put back up for sale.

A staff member described how staff provided veterinary care to gravely ill puppies. She discussed a male Chihuahua whom she said, was “crashing.” She said, “it looked like it was dead. It would roll over and its head wouldn’t follow its body and it couldn’t stand up.” One investigator asked, “What’d you guys do?” the staff member answered that Petland employees “injected it with saline.”

In the Sarasota, Florida, Petland store:

When the store was notified by a customer that a puppy they recently purchased appeared to have parvovirus—a deadly and highly contagious illness, staff members were pressured to clean frantically, but the store didn’t reveal the possible contamination to the public, and continued to sell puppies that they knew may have been exposed to the deadly disease.

Puppies were frequently sick, exhibiting explosive diarrhea or respiratory problems, but staff was under pressure to sell as many puppies as possible to earn commissions, and sometimes showed sick puppies to customers for sale. One week, a supervisor visited the store and pressured salespeople to reach a sales goal of $60,000 over the weekend.

One HSUS investigator saw a dead hamster who had been left in a drawer in the back room. As a male employee placed the hamster in the store’s freezer, our investigator tried to get a better look at the other bundles in the freezer and asked what was in it. The male employee informed her, “We don’t mess with the freezer for good reasons,” and slammed the door shut.

In the Novi, Michigan, store:

Customers regularly called with complaints about sick puppies they had purchased. On one occasion, an investigator witnessed Petland employees talking to three people who called about sick puppies during a single shift.

A staff member revealed that she had contracted Campylobacter (a drug-resistant strain of the disease was recently linked to Petland puppies during a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation) and had been hospitalized for four days. The store was recently sued for the third time in recent years after a customer who purchased a puppy in the Novi store became ill with Campylobacter; he too was hospitalized. Yet the investigator received no formal training about the disease or its symptoms.

At a March 2019 mandatory meeting for all staff, the store’s owner, Randy Horowitz suggested that a new arbitration clause in their purchase contracts would discourage consumers with sick puppies from filing future lawsuits. Because the clause requires arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (an independent non-governmental organization), Horowitz stated, “they can’t take us to court. They can’t sue us or anything.”

Petland’s business model is part of the problem. Thousands of puppies from a variety of sources, including puppy mills, are shipped from distant states on large cargo trucks every year. The dogs are exposed to stress and disease along the way. The HSUS found that Petland puppies come from a number of problematic suppliers, including some suppliers who appeared in the 2019 Horrible Hundred Puppy Mill Report. These suppliers included Tiffanie’s LLC in Missouri, where state inspectors found that 35 puppies had died in a six month period, some of them from parvovirus, and Blue Ribbon Puppies in Indiana, which has been linked to puppies with Campylobacter and canine distemper.

The troubling information discovered about Tiffanie’s LLC was readily available through state public record requests, but some Petland stores continued to buy from the dealer many months after the state found out about the high death rate in its puppies. During a recent one-month period (March 1 to April 1, 2019), at least 10 different Petland stores purchased from Tiffanie’s, LLC: Petland in Bradenton, Florida; Chicago Ridge, Illinois; Henderson, Nevada; Knoxville, Tennessee; Naperville, Illinois; Orlando East, Florida; Pittsburgh (Robinson), Pennsylvania; Rockford, Illinois; Tyler, Texas; and Janesville, Wisconsin.

The HSUS urges consumers to avoid buying pet store puppies because it perpetuates an inhumane system and many of the puppies end up being sick. Instead, HSUS recommends visiting an animal shelter or reputable rescue group, where healthy, vaccinated puppies and other pets are available for adoption. For more information on adopting a puppy, CLICK HERE!

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