GM: Thank you for agreeing to tell us your story, Sandy. Can you start by telling us about when you first got your puppy?
Sandy: Sure. I took my daughter to the mall one day. We passed a pet shop when we went in and she saw Taz inside and wanted to have a look because she thought he was so cute. They had had just gotten him and and they said he had to be quarantined when he first arrived so we couldn’t take him out to pet him. But he put his paws up on the glass and stared at her. They had an instant connection.
A week later we were back at the mall because we needed to buy her a phone case. The kiosk with the phone cases as it turned out was right next to that same pet store. She saw Taz again and he saw her and they both got very excited even from a distance. He had been there long enough now to come out and play, so she asked if we could go in and pet him. I said okay as long as you don’t ask to take him home.
GM: But she did?
Sandy: Yes, she did. She said I’ll call Dad and ask. I said, he’ll never agree to buying the dog in a million years, go ahead and call, thinking that would be the end of that. Surprisingly, he said I’ll come down and look at the dog and actually seemed to want to spend the money and take Taz home. I spent a solid hour while she played with Taz grilling the lady in the pet store about where he came from. They showed me the name and address of the ‘private breeder.’ The breeder was in Missouri which I didn’t know at the time was a red flag.
I noticed as enamored with my daughter as he was he seemed a bit lethargic. The lady said he was only nine weeks old and a couple had just been in and played with him for a solid hour so he must be a bit tired. I also noticed he was coughing little bit, but she said that was just a mild case of kennel cough which was nothing worry about and after a few days with Doxycycline he’d be fine. I did some quick research on his bred with my phone. He’s a Bugg, which is half Boston Terrier and half Pug and very cute. He cost a thousand dollars and while I had a feeling this was very spontaneous my daughter was in love and we did buy him.
I had bought him on a Saturday and was to give him the pills and bring him back on Monday to see their vet if he was still coughing. The cough got worse over the weekend so I took him back Monday and their vet looked at him and listened to his heartbeat. He said the dog would be fine he just had parasites. This struck me as odd, because how could he know that from just listening to his heartbeat. I later found out why he said that, in the paperwork of the sale it stated they were not responsible for parasites.
GM: Sounds rather like a scam to me.
Sandy: Exactly. Over the next few days the cough got much worse, so I took him to my vet’s office. When I walked into the office with Taz in a carrier and explained where I had gotten the dog his smile drooped and he just said “Oh no.” He then stated that every dog he seen from that shop was unfit for sale. He examined Taz and took chest x-rays and it turned out he had a bad case of pneumonia. The vet then gave me a copy of the New York State ‘Puppy Lemon Law’. The law states if the puppy was unfit for sale you could either return puppy for a full refund or the pet store would have to cover the vet bills up to the cost of the dog.
Well, I walked into that pet store and slammed the paper with the Puppy Lemon Law on the counter and demanded to speak to the owner. They offered a refund but we were already in love with the dog so I said I wanted them to cover the vet bills instead. They are very non-committal and I said I would return with receipts from my vet.
Well, then his condition got much, much worse and he had to be hospitalized. He had to be put on 24 hour oxygen which was a very expensive treatment. He spent the next days several between the vet’s office and an emergency animal clinic receiving around the clock treatment. After a few days with no progress the vet started talking about euthanasia. My heart sank.
GM: Oh my God. What a terrible time it must have been for you and your daughter!
Sandy: Very much so. But I said to my vet, let’s give him another couple of days and see how he does. I wasn’t ready to give up on him just yet. I knew if he didn’t improve soon we would need to let him go so he didn’t suffer. The Vet agreed that another two days was reasonable, but said after that it would be time.
I’m glad I held out, because miraculously after another day he did start to improve. After five more days he was able to come home on medications. I took copies of all the vet bills to the store’s owner, but he hemmed and hawed and did not reimburse me. There was a lot of back and forth and more than one angry phone call from me I assure you. I was then contacted by the Duchess County ASPCA and a local governmental office to give a deposition. It turned out they had seized several dogs from the mall store who were much too sick to be sold and had a myriad of complaints about the store’s owner.
The vet bills at this point were in excess of five thousand dollars. The owner did not cover one dime of these expenses, not even the thousand dollars which the lemon law said was required. I was contacted believe it or not by the People’s Court TV show who had got wind of my story and I agreed to go the show. The owner however, despite the fact the if he lost the show would cover the expense of the refund, I imagine fearing bad publicity would not agree to be on the show, so that never happened.
So I went to small claims court and as the owner of the shop did not appear I was awarded the win and he was sent a notice to pay for all the vet bills. However, by this point the pet shop had closed its doors and the owner was not taking any calls. The local news had written a story about the multitude of sick dogs coming from there which is no doubt what made him throw in the towel on the store and get into the wind.
I persisted in going after him where most people probably would not have, and after nearly two years I got two checks which covered most but not all of the expenses. They did total however much more than the one thousand dollars which a victory.
Sandy: Yes, that was well worth the fight. However, because of the record of his pre-existing condition I could not get pet health insurance for him which I wanted to do, so that was a disappointment. He has had other residual difficulties over the years form his conditions and required surgery on his nasal passages in addition to what he went thru after coming home from the store. He has been an expensive pet, but worth every penny.
GM: How is Taz today?
Sandy: Today Taz is twelve years old and in good health for his age. He’s actually old for his bred and is still going strong, though he has some respiratory issues again in his old age.
GM: What advice do you have for people who might see a puppy in a store like that now?
Sandy: Well, while not every pet store is a horrid place, I’m afraid then many of them are. Ask them to show you where the puppy came from as there are a few states which are well known to have puppy mills who describe themselves as professional, humane breeders. They are not. Do your research and don’t impulse buy, that’s what the scammers are counting on.
These mills overbreed the Mother dog until she can no longer have puppies and then just put her down. The conditions at these places are often horrific, with the dogs living in absolute squalor. They care nothing for the poor animals except what revenue they can produce. So personally, my advice would be not to buy a puppy at all unless you can go the actual breeder where the dog comes from and check on the conditions for yourself. Reputable breeders welcome people to come see their operations and generally sell to the public themselves. You can also sometimes find a litter of full bred puppies from a private house or someone who needs to rehome a dog because they can’t keep them any more for instance when they move and aren’t allowed to keep a pet. My boyfriend got a wonderful Labrador Retriever named Duke from a woman who had to move and he was a wonderful addition to our family and lived to almost sixteen. In any case take your new puppy or rescue dog to the vet right away and get a thorough exam to be sure they are in good health.
GM: well I’m so glad Taz is doing so well now and has your family for his forever home. Thanks you for sharing your story, you may well save some poor family from going through the same ordeal by being so open about your experiences.