A French bulldog puppy shed a quarter of her body weight – transforming a lean, four-pound dog to an emaciated three pounder. Two Pomeranians had a hard time seeing a thing after conjunctivitis caused their eyes to be swollen shut. An English bulldog had pneumonia so severe that the animal was struggling to breathe. A shiba inu with bronchitis coughed incessantly for weeks.
These were just a few of the health travails of sick puppies our hidden camera investigation found at one high-end Manhattan pet store, during a detailed probe conducted by an HSUS undercover investigator.
We’ve logged such complaints for years, both from puppy buyers and from former pet store employees: puppies in pet stores are sick, and sometimes mistreated. Buyers pay top dollar for dogs who’ll need medical care and perhaps even pass away in the worst cases. To find the facts, we chose a New York City pet store called the Chelsea Kennel Club (CKC) at random, based only on the enterprise that was first to hire our investigator. Our undercover investigator—I’ll call her Karen – performed her tasks, but with a hidden camera, between the end of April and the end of June.
What Karen saw in the “boutique” style puppy store, where some puppies were priced at more than $4,000, made her heartsick. While the front of the store looked clean and inviting, a back “isolation” room was filled with sick puppies – puppies with breathing problems, bloody diarrhea, painful infections, unexplained wounds, high fevers, and more. Store personnel sometimes sent puppies to the veterinarian – but often not until they were suffering from severe pneumonia.
Karen found more than just a parade of sick puppies. She saw puppies given too much medication, the wrong medication, or none at all. She saw customers who were told their puppies just had the sniffles, when in fact they had been sick for weeks. Karen sometimes witnessed veterinary records that documented physical abnormalities being removed from the puppies’ folders before they were sold, so their new owners wouldn’t suspect a thing.
When the isolation room was over capacity, Karen saw employees move sick puppies to the sales floor, often while the animals were still coughing and sneezing. Customers who purchased the sick puppies were told they just had “a little cold” – but many of these puppies were later diagnosed with pneumonia. Giardia, a parasitic infection that causes bloody diarrhea and can spread to people, was also rampant at the store.
If pathogens didn’t make most of the animals miserable enough, some of the employees compounded their suffering by mistreating them. Karen witnessed employees smack at puppies with a towel, grab them by the neck, and hold them down with their muzzles closed as part of a bizarre “dominance” training.
To document some of the problems Karen reported, we sent two “secret shoppers” to the store to purchase puppies. We don’t support buying puppies at pet stores, but these puppies were part of the investigation and would be provided with good foster homes after our investigation concluded. One of the pups we purchased was Gertie, a shiba inu who had been sick in the store for weeks. Our shopper was told she just had a little cough. Gertie was sent home with our buyer without any medical documentation about her respiratory problem, and no medications. We brought Gertie to a veterinarian within 24 hours, and she was diagnosed with bronchitis. More diagnostic work revealed she had pneumonia. Gertie was a very sick dog, and the veterinarian who treated her believes she may have permanent lung damage.
Our secret shoppers also purchased Rhonda, a Chihuahua puppy returned to the store for biting her first buyer and drawing blood. The store re-sold Rhonda to our secret shopper without revealing her bite history and with no medical records of Rhonda’s congenital eye problem, which makes one of her eyes appear smaller than the other. What the store did include was breeder paperwork, which links Rhonda to a puppy mill in Kansas that has appeared in some of our Horrible Hundred reports.
CKC is the same store we visited with Inside Edition for its April 2017 exposé about dog DNA. The puppy that Inside Edition purchased from CKC (and HSUS staff fostered) was not only a completely different breed from the one listed on his paperwork, according to two DNA tests, but he was sick for weeks. He had kennel cough, giardia and colitis, among other problems.
The trade in puppy mill dogs is plagued with problems, and this investigation is just the latest evidence to support that contention. It’s one of the reasons why truly responsible breeders don’t sell their puppies through pet stores.
Earlier this year, the USDA removed most puppy mill inspection reports from its website, making it impossible for buyers and even pet stores to do their research on where these animals are coming from. During our investigation, we reached out to the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and he’s vowed to examine the details of our investigation. He’s one of the most pro-animal attorneys general in the United States, so we’re confident he’s quite serious about following up on our work. We believe the incidents Karen witnessed were not isolated, and are not even limited to one store—in fact, Karen noted that the same trucks that came from Missouri and other “puppy mill” states to deliver puppies to CKC also delivered to many other pet stores in Manhattan and neighboring communities.
We encourage anyone who has bought a sick puppy from a pet store to let us know right away at www.humanesociety.org/puppycomplaint. New York residents may also contact the state attorney general’s office directly. Please share our investigation video far and wide to let family and friends know that this is why puppies don’t belong in pet stores. And please spread the word that people looking to bring a puppy into their home should adopt from a shelter or rescue group or seek out a responsible breeder.
P.S. Rhonda and Gertie, the two puppies we purchased, have now been placed in good homes. We will continue to monitor their progress as they are treated for their long-term challenges. And to learn more about the investigation, read the report. You can also watch this video as well as read Karen’s investigation diary.