By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Petland is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons, this time in connection with a multistate outbreak of a superbug that has sickened 30 people in 13 states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that four people have been hospitalized after being infected with a strain of the campylobacter bacterium that’s resistant to multiple drugs. "Many of the cases had contact with puppies or were employees at pet stores, including Petland," the CDC concluded, after its investigations linked 12 of those sickened with the national pet store chain that still sells dogs sourced from puppy mills. Five of the affected individuals were Petland employees.
The Humane Society of the United States has turned a red-hot spotlight on Petland’s substandard procedures and deficient animal welfare practices with undercover investigations at eight of its stores over the past two years, and as saddening as the news today from the CDC is, we are not surprised. Petland has been endangering the health of its employees and its consumers for years now. In previous years, the CDC has linked more than 118 cases of human campylobacter bacterial infections to contact with Petland puppies, which resulted in a number of people being hospitalized. Our investigations have repeatedly shown that despite these reported outbreaks, Petland has refused to take adequate proactive steps to prevent such outbreaks.
- During our last investigation, at the Petland in Florence, Kentucky, a store manager admitted on hidden camera that the store doesn’t test puppies with diarrhea for the disease because "they all have it."
- Jasper, a puppy we bought at the store as part of our investigation had been sick for weeks with bloody diarrhea and had a poor appetite, but it appears the store never even took him to a veterinarian for his illness. After we acquired Jasper and took him to a veterinarian, he tested positive for campylobacter. Fortunately, Jasper did not seem to have the drug-resistant strain, and recovered after finally receiving much-needed care. A Petland manager who talked to our secret shopper during Jasper’s sale emphatically stated Jasper did not have campylobacter after our shopper saw him with diarrhea. The manager claimed his stool had been tested, but when we called both Petland and the store’s veterinarian, they did not provide any proof that Jasper was ever tested.
- Records we obtained from the Kentucky Department for Public Health showed that at least six people became ill with campylobacter this year alone after touching or buying puppies at the Florence store; at least two of the victims were hospitalized.
- Our investigations of both the Frisco, Texas, and Florence, Kentucky Petland stores this year ended promptly when our undercover investigators at both stores were diagnosed with campylobacter after going to urgent care clinics for persistent flu-like symptoms. Fortunately, neither investigator seemed to have the drug-resistant strain of campylobacter, and they both responded to medical treatment.
- Our investigation at a Novi, Michigan, Petland store found that customers regularly called with complaints about sick puppies they had purchased. A staff member at the store revealed that she had contracted campylobacter and had been hospitalized for four days. The store was sued this year for the third time in recent years after a customer in the Novi store became ill with the drug-resistant strain of campylobacter; he too was hospitalized.
- CDC recommends diligently testing any animals with symptoms for campylobacter, but as our investigators uncovered, Petland was not doing that. At best, stores routinely had low-level employees dose sick dogs with antibiotics instead of having them (or even a stool sample) taken to a vet.
One of the reasons we also see so many campylobacter outbreaks at Petland is because the chain continues to source animals from puppy mills, which do not provide adequate professional medical care or sanitation to their animals. Dogs shipped to pet stores from dozens of different breeders are intermingled during transport in such a way that the CDC has had great difficulty tracing the original source of the outbreak, making future cases of illness almost a certainty. On the other hand, Petland spends a vast amount of its resources each year fighting commonsense laws to protect animals in puppy mills.
No business should be allowed to put its bottomline above the health of its customers and employees, and the animals in its possession. With more and more localities banning the sales of dogs from puppy mills in pet stores, and with these continued outbreaks of diseases, the writing is on the wall for pet stores like Petland which, in their own way, perpetuate the miseries caused by puppy mills.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.