Thursday, May 28, 2020

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Pet stores like Petland and internet puppy sellers routinely deceive unsuspecting customers into buying animals who are bred in inhumane puppy mills and who could be sick or even dying. Today, we are calling on the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with consumer protection, to crack down on these deceptive sales and marketing practices that often result in terrible suffering for pets and the people who bring them home.

The FTC has been mostly silent on retail pet sales. The agency has also not issued a regulation declaring these deceptive practices to be unlawful—a request we made in a legal petition filed in 2018. In the two years since, we have conducted undercover investigations at eight Petland stores. We have also heard from numerous consumers who bought puppies they were told were healthy from one of Petland's stores across 19 states nationwide, only to have their joy turn to heartbreak when the animals fell sick or died.

With our renewed legal petition filed today we hope the FTC will finally move to protect these and other future consumers. These are people like Stephanie Rappard who was sold a “completely healthy” German shepherd puppy by the Petland in Topeka, Kansas. The puppy, named Jade, died just a month later from multiple preventable ailments. Or Stacy Parreno, who bought a basset hound from another Petland in Orlando, Florida, only to find out he was suffering from pneumonia and a genetic lung defect. When Stacy brought the dog back to the store, he was resold to another family.

Our undercover investigators documented similar findings at other Petland stores. Buyers were routinely assured that their puppies were healthy and came from reputable breeders, when in fact they typically came from unsanitary mass-breeding facilities like the ones we list each year in our Horrible Hundred report on problem puppy dealers and breeders. Petland, we found, also neglected to provide proper veterinary care for animals who were noticeably ill, and used “preventative” antibiotics and other ad-hoc remedies to mask symptoms of infectious diseases long enough to sell the puppies to unsuspecting consumers. For instance, in our undercover investigation of a Florence, Kentucky, Petland store, the manager told a secret shopper that a goldendoodle—who was infected with campylobacter and had been suffering for weeks with diarrhea and lethargy—was perfectly healthy and had been tested for the infectious disease, which can be transmitted to humans.

Puppy sellers like Petland also often pressure or mislead consumers into high-interest financing agreements that they cannot afford. In some tragic cases we cite in our petition, consumers continued to accrue interest and make payments on puppies who had passed away shortly after purchase.

In addition to duping customers, pet stores like Petland keep the puppy mill problem alive and thriving. The mills churn out a steady supply of puppies for sale at the stores, often labeling them with made-up terms such as “teacup puppies,” or “hypoallergenic” to boost sales in response to consumer trends.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund are working on many fronts to root out the puppy mill problem and end sales of puppies in pet stores. As a result of our efforts, three states and 355 localities now ban pet store sales of puppies. In Congress, we are pushing for the passage of the Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, to make it easier to close down dog breeders with violations, and the Puppy Protection Act, H.R. 2442, to upgrade standards of care for dogs.

Last week the Florida attorney general’s office brought a lawsuit against a Petland store—Petland Orlando East aka Petland Waterford Lakes—alleging the exact same kinds of deceptive practices we discuss in our petition. Clearly, a growing number of disgruntled consumers are speaking out, and we applaud the attorney general for taking action.

But ultimately, this ball is in the FTC’s court. The federal agency has the authority and responsibility to ensure that American consumers are not being hurt by unscrupulous business practices. We reminded the agency of this responsibility when we filed our first petition in 2018, and we are urging it again today to grant our request. We will keep showing up until it does.

If you believe you have been deceived by the practices of the retail pet industry, please submit a complaint to the FTC and ask them to help stop these practices. You can also report your story to us by filling out our Puppy Buyer Complaint Form.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States