GEORGIA — Cute puppies might be on the minds of holiday shoppers this time of year, making even more urgent a Humane Society of the United States warning to “never buy a puppy from a pet store.” A recent undercover investigation by the Humane Society at a Petland store in the Atlanta area reportedly found a dead puppy in the chain’s Kennesaw store, and an employee described coming into work to find deceased puppies on multiple occasions, among other findings.
Petland denied all charges of poor care for the animals it sells. “We are very disappointed that HSUS did not reach out to us with any concerns as we have always urged them to contact us directly as it relates to the health and care of our pets,” the company said in a statement to Patch.
Following the undercover operation, the Humane Society, or HSUS, released a report Tuesday, naming Blue Ribbon Puppies of Indiana as a source for disease outbreaks among dogs sold by Petland. According to HSUS, Blue Ribbon Puppies sells puppies to at least five of the six Petland stores in Georgia. Petland, Inc., an international chain of puppy-selling pet stores, has six stores in Georgia, located in the Mall of Georgia, in Buford; along with Dalton; Dunwoody; Kennesaw; Columbus and Rome.
“Almost all of the Georgia Petland stores, we have confirmed five of six — the Columbus store is unknown — are getting puppies from that same distributor who was linked to a major disease outbreak that made over 100 people sick,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign of HSUS, in the report.
In February 2018, WSB-TV reported that Kate Singleton, who worked at the Mall of Georgia Petland, became seriously ill after being exposed to a puppy harboring the Campylobacter bacteria. The teen was rushed to the hospital with a fever near 105. “It felt like you were dying,” she told the station after spending four days in the hospital.
“It’s something as a parent you don’t think of,” her mother told WSB. “You buy a puppy for Christmas; you don’t think it will be dangerous to your child.”
Petland said Campylobacter is commonly found in puppies, regardless of the source.
In its statement to Patch by Petland Corporate, the company says many of the claims in the Humane Society report are inaccurate and made in an effort to boost fundraising efforts.
“For over 50 years, Petland’s number one priority has been the health and welfare of its pets,” reads the statement. “Each Petland store has a licensed consulting veterinarian and that veterinarian establishes the care of the pets and protocols in the store. HSUS’s annual ‘undercover investigation’ of Petland inaccurately portrays information in an effort to boost end of year fundraising efforts and to spread their anti-pet agenda. Much of the information in their report is a regurgitation of information that has been dismissed legally and answered appropriately.”
But Goodwin said the HSUS investigation reveals multiple problems in the commercial pet breeding industry.
“Through various freedom of information act requests, we were able to determine that the sick puppies in the commercial pet breeding industry is a system wide problem,” Goodwin said. “Numerous breeders and puppy brokers were linked to the outbreak. That said, Blue Ribbon Puppies out of Indiana was linked to the disease outbreak in a big way.”
An independent analysis of claims of illnesses with Petland puppies showed that less than 1.2 percent of all puppies that went home incurred any sort of severe medical issue requiring medical hospitalization, Petland said.
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According to the Humane Society report, during the summer of 2018, Blue Ribbon Puppies sold 161 puppies to Petland stores in Dalton, Dunwoody, Kennesaw, the Mall of Georgia in Buford and Rome. The report said many of the stores received shipments on the same day, indicating the same truck went from store to store. And altogether, the five Petland stores in Georgia received more than 450 puppies from Blue Ribbon and other brokers.
The full Humane Society report can be found here. Patch has not been able to independently corroborate the claims made by the Humane Society.
The report sites an example of a Kennesaw Petland store employee who told Humane Society’s undercover investigator that she sometimes came into work and found puppies that had “passed away.” The employee said this happened about three times during the four months she had been working there.
After hearing about other puppies that had died at the Kennesaw store, the Humane Society investigator became suspicious about a black plastic bag in the freezer. When no one was looking, she opened the bag and found a dead puppy inside. The investigator documented the incident on hidden camera.
According to the Humane Society report, the Kennesaw store had numerous sick puppies that were kept in barren isolation rooms out of sight of customers, including puppies that were coughing, lethargic or had mucus coming from their noses.
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The Humane Society of the United States says it continues to receive complaints about sick puppies bought from Petland stores across the country. To further investigate, the group placed undercover investigators with hidden cameras in two different Petland stores in the fall of 2018. One investigator worked at the Petland in Kennesaw in September and October.
A large-breed puppy that was labeled a “jumper” was kept in a stacked cage high off the ground at the Kennesaw store, according to the report. The Humane Society investigator also reported witnessing an employee dropping the puppy while trying to take him out of his cage, causing the puppy to repeatedly screech in pain.
Some puppies reportedly lived for months in crowded cages. Most of the puppies received no regular exercise outside their cages unless potential buyers asked to play with them. In the Kennesaw store in particular, cages suitable for two puppies often held four or five puppies, the HSUS said.
Records obtained by the HSUS from the Georgia Department of Agriculture in November 2018 indicate the Kennesaw store has been inspected multiple times because puppies were ill with parvovirus, respiratory infections and Giardia, some of which were reported by customers who had purchased sick puppies. In December 2017, a number of puppies in the store were quarantined for illness.
According to the report, the Humane Society investigator reportedly saw numerous medications in the back room at the Kennesaw store, including a bottle labeled only “The Cure.” Pet store staff said the concoction had been mixed together by a supervisor at the store. The bottle did not have a veterinary label nor any ingredients or dosages listed on the label, yet staff said they had been instructed to give it to puppies that had a poor appetite, the report said.
In addition to more than 1,200 complaints received by HSUS, the website ConsumerAffairs.com has more than 580 reviews of Petland, most of them critical. Many of those reviewers also complained of sick and dying puppies, and some said Petland, through its warranty company, refused to compensate them fully for their veterinary costs, which ran into thousands of dollars in some cases.
Petland responded that “Consumer Affairs is a site where companies have to PAY to answer, respond or have reviews deleted.”
In January 2018, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a multi-state outbreak of human Campylobacter infections had sickened 113 people in 17 different states (a number that later increased to 118 people in 18 states); most of the people infected had had recent contact with puppies from Petland stores and 23 people were hospitalized, according to the CDC.
The Humane Society says responsible breeders don’t sell to pet stores, because they want to meet the families who are taking home their puppies, and stay in touch in case of any problems, the animal advocacy group says.
The HSUS recommends visiting an animal shelter as the most humane option when getting a new pet, and if purchasing a pet, to only purchase them from a breeder who will show the buyer where the puppy was born and raised. At shelters and responsible rescue centers, healthy, vaccinated puppies, dogs, cats and other small pets are available for low adoption fees, and most of them are already spayed or neutered.
Photos courtesy Humane Society of the United States