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Vet claims national pet store chain Petland knowingly sells sick puppies

Anne Flounlaker's puppy, Faith. (WJLA/Nathan Baca)

MARRIETA, Ga. (WJLA) - A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in northern Georgia claims national pet store chain Petland knowingly sells sick dogs as part of its regular business model. A Georgia veterinarian provided a written statement supporting that claim, and talked to 7 On Your Side at his Atlanta-area clinic. Petland denies all wrongdoing and is moving to dismiss a pending class action lawsuit.

VIZSLA PUPPIES IN FAIRFAX

7 On Your Side first began investigating Petland after receiving complaints from a Virginia animal rescue group this summer. It took pictures of Vizsla breed puppies at the Petland store in Fairfax, Virginia.

“It was these two little puppies in a cage on a grate. No bed. Couldn’t see any. Not where any animal should be living,” said Anne Flounlaker with the Virginia Vizsla rescue group.

The group gathered the money to purchase the Vizsla puppies for $2,800. The rescue group took the Vizsla puppies, now named Faith and Manny, to a veterinarian of its choice.

“The first night we got her, her stomach was really bloated and she threw up like five times that night, and had diarrhea a bunch of times. I couldn’t even count and so we got her into the vet the very next morning and it turns out she has Giardia, which is a parasite that comes about when water is contaminated with feces,” added Flounlaker, Faith’s foster owner. “She’s the cutest little thing. You would never know she didn’t have the best and perfect start to life. But the vet said, 'I can tell just by looking: this is an underweight puppy. She’s small for her age.' He did a bunch of tests. The Giardia test came back positive. She’s on a couple of antibiotics and a special food now.”

“When Faith and Manny went home with our rescuers that night, it was probably the first time their feet had ever touched grass,” said Susan Laume with the Virginia Vizsla rescue group. “They try at Petland to make you believe, to the unsuspecting consumer, that only their veterinarian can provide these services. I can’t explain it. To me, it’s a fraudulent practice.”

A VETERINARIAN SPEAKS OUT

Dr. Michael Good, an Atlanta-area veterinarian, was Petland’s pick to examine incoming puppies in north Georgia from 2002 to 2011.

“You name it, they’ve got parasites, bacteria. They’ve got protozoa,” said Good at his Town & Country Veterinary Center in Marrieta, Georgia. “All I know is when I saw it in my office, I saw a lot of problems. Some were 'zoonotic.' Some could be transmitted to people … ‘Wait a second – these kids could get sick from that puppy.’”

“The puppies and dogs I saw from that model, that retail model where they buy from these big brokers and they bring them to a concentrated store, and they’ll sell them to anybody. I saw more sickness and illness in that model, that business model of Petland, then I ever did with a shelter,” said Good.

“I would try to go up there (Petland store in Kennesaw, Georgia) once a week to evaluate what’s there and see what’s there. I’ve been up there late at night in the wintertime and these trucks from Missouri, Nebraska, and all these places where these big operations come from – the Midwest – and it would be cold, and they’ve been on the trucks for two to three days in transport. If we’re lucky, they (puppies) were seven weeks old,” recalled Good.

Good recalled at Petland’s Kennesaw, Georgia store, “They’d open up their freezer and there’d be dead animals in there. Dogs: they ask two things of us as people. They want to be loved and they want to be remembered. But none of these animals I saw in those freezers were ever loved or remembered. They were just a statistic.”

Good terminated his business partnership with Petland and wrote an affidavit in support of a class action lawsuit filed.

PETLAND ACCUSED OF RACKETEERING

Former Petland customer Rosalba Cisneros filed suit in United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, applying for a class action case. If allowed by a judge, it could open the national pet store chain, with 77 locations nationwide, to claims from a large section of its customers. The lawsuit claims Petland neglected animals as recently as 2015.

Petlands puppy purchase contracts provide a warranty. If a puppy ends up sick after purchase, dog owners must contact a company named “PAWSitive” for instructions and veterinarian support for the owner to have any possibility of a refund. Corporate registration shows PAWSitive also does business as “Third Party Pet.” The Cisneros v. Petland lawsuit alleges both companies “conspire” to “provide false and misleading information” to pet owners. That alleged conspiracy forms the basis of the lawsuit’s racketeering claim.

PETLAND RESPONDS

Petland, based in Chillicothe, Ohio, declined an interview. It responded to the Virginia Vizsla puppy purchase in a statement: “The state attorney’s humane officer visited the store twice and validated care of these animals. Giardia does sometimes occur in a kennel environment, but is covered under the warranty and would have been treated at no cost if the warranty would have been followed and proper paperwork presented.”

Third Party Pet, doing business as “PAWSitive,” declined to talk to 7 On Your Side.

Puppies inside Petland stores nationwide infected 39 people in seven states, according to a September alert from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The agency singled out Petland for scrutiny. The illnesses all occurred in the last calendar year. Human Campylobacter virus passes from contact with dog feces and usually does not spread between people. The virus can cause stomach flu-like symptoms. Seven people were hospitalized.

“We are doing exactly what the CDC has recommended, which is to keep doing what we are doing and reinforcing the importance of hand sanitation with our staff and customers as well as advising people to not let the pets lick your face or any open wounds,” responded Petland in a statement.

On Oct. 3, the CDC announced 16 more people had become ill with Campylobacter. Of the total 55 infected, the CDC says 14 are Petland employees from five states and 35 people came in contact with Petland puppies.

A federal judge has not decided whether to approve Petland’s motion to dismiss the federal case submitted Sept. 29.


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