Brothers Brian and Jonathon Gordon of Simsbury bought seven-week-old puppies from The Dog House pet store in Manchester just before Christmas. But only one day after bringing their new pets home, little Wilson showed signs of being very sick.
"He was going to need surgery, and because of his age he probably wasn't going to make it through the surgery. Our family vet confirmed that,” said Brian.
Wilson was diagnosed with the parvovirus. It’s a deadly disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea, and is highly contagious. For Wilson, it was fatal. And then Lily got sick.
"It was extremely fast. She got sick on a Thursday night,” recalled Jonathon, “she looked terrible.”
In all, the family spent over $4,000 in vet bills trying desperately to save the dogs. But in just a few weeks, both puppies were dead.
"It's upsetting. You feel responsible and guilty,” said Brian.
But the brothers believe it was The Dog House pet store’s mistake for selling them sick animals. The Dog House said it didn’t know the dogs were sick, and refunded the brothers. It even had the store’s own veterinarian treat Wilson. For the Gordons, that was not enough to take away their anguish.
The Troubleshooters discovered The Dog House has a history of failed state inspections, including at least 10 in the last six years. The store failed every inspection in 2012—all of the failures over the years have been for not keeping the proper records. There have also been complaints from people who said they were sold sick animals. The State received a dozen of those since 2007. Owners Dick and Chris Carty of The Dog House said that’s just a fraction of the thousands of animals they’ve sold in their store. The state investigated each complaint and found the pet store was following regulations. Not everyone agreed the store has done enough to protect their pets.
"The dog was limp. Just lying there looking at me. It was terrible,” said The Dog House former employee Daisy Crowley.
She said conditions were so bad she quit in August after a parvo outbreak she insists the store was not addressing properly.
"They didn't care in my opinion. They let it escalate. They could have prevented more dogs from dying,” said Crowley.
She reported the problem, and the State Department of Agriculture investigated. It found five puppies had been infected with the virus, including three that had already died. The Department gave the store a warning for not keeping records of the illnesses. It said the pet store took the necessary steps to treat the outbreak.
“It happens. If you look at the volume of animals that are going through the pet shops, You're bound to come across where animals are going to become sick either in transit, something they may have been incubating from the time they left the broker, to the pet shop, or something they may have picked up in the pet shop itself,” said Ray Connors, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.
Our Troubleshooters investigation turned up something else. Six years ago, the state of Massachusetts shut down a pet store run by the same people who own The Dog House after officials there found the owners had violated state regulations during a parvovirus outbreak in that store. The Cartys said they fought Massachusetts’s decision not to renew their license, but eventually dropped the legal battle.
After the Troubleshooters got involved, state officials followed up on the Gordons’ complaints. They found a third dog had fallen ill in the same outbreak at the store. Still, according to the law, pet stores do not have to report parvo cases to the state, and there are no regulations on how stores must deal with an outbreak. Yet, The Dog House failed this inspection, too—because of those missing medical records.
After our repeated requests for an interview, the Cartys allowed us into their store.
"Explain the state inspection violations,” asked Troubleshooter Sabina Kuriakose.
"Sure. Basically it's a paperwork issue where the state requires us to post information onto a state log book that we have to maintain in the store. We have 72 hours to do so. We have fallen behind. We're corrected that,” answered Dick Carty.
The Cartys would only respond to the other allegations in writing. They wrote that less than one percent of the dogs in their store have been diagnosed with parvo. And they said Daisy Crowley’s claims are “false, absurd, and libelous.”
"We work very hard, Sabina, every day of our lives to make sure every puppy and rescue dog we send home is healthy and happy. Over the 12 years we've been in operation we've taken care of over 12,000 puppies, believe it or not. That's a lot of puppies. We stand on our record,” said Dick Carty,.
Consumers can take steps to ensure they’re buying or adopting healthy animals. For one, ask to review your new pet’s medical records. By law, pet stores must provide these, but shelters don’t have to. Another tip is to ask about any past disease outbreaks, and how the facility deals with the problem. Bear in mind that they don’t have to tell you. And finally, have your own vet examine the animal as soon as you take it home. These are simple steps, but they could save a life.