Pet Store Customers Call For Tougher Laws
Connecticut Store's Owners Shut Down In Mass.
MANCHESTER, Conn. -- The owners of The Dog House in Manchester say that over the past eight years, they have united almost 9,000 puppies with customers
People like Yvette Bohara and her pug Henry.
"He's an awesome dog. He is a really, really good dog. He was nothing to train. I couldn't have asked for a better dog," she said.
Kristin Damato and her family have purchased four dogs from the store.
"You know, the customer service there has been wonderful, I have nothing negative to say about them. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them, I wouldn't hesitate to go back there and get another dog. I have no reservations at all," she said.
However, the I-Team found that not all of the store's customers share that opinion.
Dozens of customers contacted the I-Team after it ran a story in May 2007 on the Manchester store.
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Customer Jim Brassard said that Sophie, the shih Tzu-Chihuahua mix he shares with a friend, developed a respiratory infection less than a week after coming home from the store.
He said that while the company did issue a check covering some of Sophie's veterinary costs, it took a while to get the money.
"The vet bills occurred in October and we only got the check on February 22 -- only because we called and called. And then I called and they said they never got the bills, so I re-faxed them over to them and after two weeks … then we finally got it, but it was only because we were consistently calling them and going in there and then they took care of it," he said.
While Sophie recovered completely, the same cannot be said for yellow Labrador Sasha, that Bob and Joanna Wheeler said they bought at The Dog House.
"They had told us up front that she had had kennel cough, but she was cured," Joanna Wheeler said.
The Wheelers said that weeks after getting Sasha, her jaw began moving strangely, and their veterinarian diagnosed the dog with a neurological disorder. The Wheelers said the only way to keep her alive was to give her steroids and other medicine.
"Her tongue grew to the full size, so her tongue hangs out the side of her mouth. She can't keep it in her mouth because it's too big, or she'll choke on it. And she constantly nods her head. She has what they call tics, so her body constantly moves, her muscles are always moving," Joanne Wheeler said.
The Dog House said Sasha is the only dog it has ever placed with neurological issues, and that it has stopped accepting puppies from the breeder involved.
The company offered to have its vet look at Sasha and offered to take the dog back.
The Wheelers refused, saying that their children had become too attached to the dog.
The Wheelers said the company refunded Sasha's $800 purchase price, but did not pay any of the $4,000-plus they spent to treat her.
She has what they call tics. So her body constantly moves, her muscles are always moving"
Dozens of unhappy customers, including Brassard and the Wheelers have contacted the I-Team about The Dog House over the past few years.
The Dog House owners offered several explanations:
Customers did not follow instructions on how to care for the puppies.
Customers refused to let the store's veterinarian handle the puppies when they became ill.
They refused to trade in the sick puppy for a healthy one.
Store owners said some customers received a larger refund than required by law, despite no obligation to do so.
The company said that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture has received health-related complaints on fewer than 1 percent of the puppies it has sold over the years -- something the Department of Agriculture could not confirm.
The I-Team also spoke with Matt Dualan, who said he used to work for the Dog House in Manchester, but primarily the company's second location -- The Dog House II in North Attleboro, Mass.
Dualan admitted that he was fired after a year, but defended the company.
He said the company's practices are no different than any pet store that sells a large number of puppies.
"I just encourage people to go to breeders, backyard hobbyist breeders that really care about their animals. These dogs are not around any sicknesses so you have a less likely chance of getting a dog that will become ill on you," he said.
Disease control issues are some of several reasons the state of Massachusetts has taken action against The Dog House II and another store recently opened in the state by the same owners -- The Puppy Place in West Springfield.
On March 20, the Department of Agricultural Resources issued a cease and desist order against the owners Richard and Chris Carty of Connecticut, prohibiting them from operating a pet shop of any kind in the Commonwealth.
The agency said it is the first time it has done this in its 155-year history.
The Cartys appealed, but the state said that The Dog House II still cannot sell puppies.
The Puppy Place has been allowed to open under a number of conditions, and the state said the store is "on a short leash."
Unhappy Dog House customers who spoke with the I-Team said they believe Connecticut regulators should put the Manchester store under more scrutiny although they realize it is a separate and distinct operation from the Massachusetts locations.
Sean and Elissa Conroy said that the puppy they bought at the Manchester store had kennel cough and then developed pneumonia less than a month after they bought it, costing them more than $800 in vet bills.
They said The Dog House reimbursed them $200 for the kennel cough -- the maximum reimbursement allowed under state law for any illness that existed at the time of the sale.
The Conroys said they believe the state's puppy lemon law needs more teeth.
"It isn't that big a thing to say, OK, we're going to change the law from the $200 to the expenses that are incurred on behalf of the person who bought the dog," said Elissa Conroy. "Because if they're selling healthy dogs, if they are honestly selling healthy dogs -- the majority -- then they shouldn't be taking that much of a financial hit."
Several recent efforts to further regulate the sale of puppies by pet shops have failed in Connecticut.
The owners of The Dog House declined to go on camera with Eyewitness News.
This place is right across the street from Bed Bath & Beyond and I've known this investigation has been going on for a while. I actually had customer complain to me about "The Dog House" and how they had to take their dog (that they got from The Dog House) to the vet. He had parvo, parasites and was pretty sick. I told her about the ongoing investigation where she got her dog and she wasn't aware. I'm sure there'll be some kind of class-action lawsuit and I hope they close this place down. I've heard nothing but bad things about it.