Five North Side pet stores are among a list of a dozen in the Chicago area identified in a Humane Society of the United States puppy mill investigation.
The list includes Old Town's Collar and Leash Boutique at 1345 N. Wells St.; Lincoln Park's Pocket Puppies at 2479 N. Clark St.; Portage Park's Hug-A-Pup at 4950 W. Irving Park Road; Elmwood Park's Top Dog’s Puppy Store at 6919 W. Grand Ave.; and Lake View's Puppies R Us at 3404 N. Ashland Ave.
The Humane Society said last week that undercover investigators visited 12 stores over a three-day period in October, and found that many are linked to inhumane commercial breeders known as "puppy mills." During the visits, employees at the stores denied selling animals from puppy mills, but documents showed otherwise.
Investigators also discovered that eight of the 12 were in violation of Illinois' pet shop disclosure law—four of those eight were among the five North Side stores—which requires them to post visible information about the animals and their breeders, the Humane Society said. The other four stores, one of which was Lake View's Puppies R Us, had information in binders that were not posted "in a conspicuous place on or near the cage of any dog or cat available for sale," according to the report.
The Humane Society also reviewed hundreds of Certificates of Veterinary Inspection documents, which show the origin of puppies shipped to Chicago-area pet stores. United States Department of Agriculture inspection reports for the puppy breeders were then examined for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, along with Illinois Department of Agriculture files on the stores themselves, which include public complaints and inspection reports.
While visiting Collar and Leash Boutique in Old Town, just south of Lincoln Park, investigators discovered that breeder information on for-sale puppies was written on the back of cage cards but customers would need to ask for the specific information.
The report also states that two consumer IDOA complaints have been filed against the store in the past two years—one about dogs and cats in poor condition with no food or water and another, dated in October of 2011, about a puppy with an injured leg who had not been treated by a vet.
"State inspectors visited and said they found conditions acceptable, even though the inspector reported that the store manager, 'Bob' originally told the inspector that the puppy with the injured leg had been seen by a vet and then later changed his story when the inspector said he would be calling the vet to verify," according to the report. "The inspector just warned Bob that in the future, injured animals needed to go to a vet."
Inspection reports show that the store bought puppies from J.A.K. Puppies, Inc., a huge puppy broker in Iowa, but information obtained from during the investigator's visit said dogs came from Wanda Kretzman/Clearwater Kennel in Cushing, MN. That particular breeder has had what inspectors say were "serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act on her USDA inspection reports for many years." Reports show that J.A.K. Puppies buys from Kretzman.
The most recent USDA inspection report for Kretzman showed 902 dogs and puppies at her facility and noncompliant items included pups with swollen, inflamed or bloody feet in need of veterinary care; beetles crawling in food and shipped puppies who had not been seen by a veterinarian within a 10-day time frame before being sent, the report states.
Owner Sonja Raymond said Monday that she's aware of the allegations and that she and her husband, Dan, do their very best to make sure they are not purchasing from puppy mills.
"The No. 1 thing the public has to be aware of, is that we are forced to go through distributors," she said. "Sometimes, those distributors, unbeknownst to us, are the ones purchasing from puppy mills."
The high costs of puppies that come from private breeders would essentially put most stores out of business, Raymond noted, because the resale price following vaccinations and necessary care would be so costly that prospective pet owners wouldn't be able to afford them.
Raymond said she wasn't about to deny that she had purchased puppies from J.A.K. or Clearwater Kennel.
"As soon as I found out that they were purchasing from puppy mills, I stopped buying from them," she said. "As soon as I get a puppy, I take the breeder information and their USDA number and I do the very best I can to ensure that puppy is coming from somewhere that is treating their puppies well."
She said Collar and Leash is a "mom and pop" shop that was started by her husband's grandmother in 1956. The store is committed to giving back to the community and ensures that dogs, even after they're sold, can return to the shop for grooming and boarding.
Investigators said that in 2007, they received a complaint against nearby Pocket Puppies in Lincoln Park regarding a puppy that was sick and underage when sold. The IDOA has received other complaints regarding unknowledgeable staff and puppies with suspected worm infestations.
On its website under FAQs the store says:
“We work with a select group small licensed breeders across the United States. Specific breeder information is given to the customer at the time of orientation. Our breeders have a consistent record of providing healthy and smaller-than-average puppies. We screen out any breeders that don't meet Pocket Puppies standards.”
The store reportedly buys from puppy mills in Missouri and Kansas, some of which have serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act documented on their USDA inspection reports. Among these mega-breeders are Hazel Coleman in Lebanon, MO., with 98 breeding dogs and 45 puppies, and USDA violations including matted dogs and filth.
There's also Tim Deters in Baileyville, KS., with 175 breeding adults and 57 puppies whose violations include dogs in need of veterinary care, failure to keep proper records and filth. Store owners also buy from Debra Cannon in Miami, OK, who was captured on videotape taken by an HSUS investigator in September 2009 spraying dogs in wire cages with a strong stream of water to get them to “shut up,” the report says.
"Pocket Puppies uses the misleading term 'adoption' when referring to its puppy sales and displays puppies behind glass on red velvet floor pads," according to investigators.
Employees at the store declined to comment on Monday.
So, too, did those at Lake View's Puppies R Us, where they said the owner was not immediately available. A review of health certificates shows that the store obtains puppies from Indiana puppy mills, including many that have serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act on their inspection reports, investigators said.
These puppy mill operators include Devon Troyer of Pine Creek Enterprises in Middlebury, IN., whose USDA inspection reports reflect dogs in need of veterinary care—one, that the inspector described as “a cavalier with eye discharge in both eyes, a sore between the toes of the rear left foot and a severe ear discharge with thickened skin making evaluation of the ear canal difficult."
Larry Miller of Railside Canines in Millersburg, IN., is also listed as a supplier to the store. Violations on Miller’s inspection reports include feces accumulation and bulldog puppies with “severe eye deformities” who had not received veterinary care.
Marlin Bontrager in Rome City, IN, had 121 adult dogs and 177 puppies at his mill during the June 21, 2012, USDA inspection. Bontrager’s violations include a sick, weak puppy who had not been provided veterinary care and overheated dogs panting in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees.
Puppies R Us also buys from what appear to be unlicensed dealers in Indiana, according to the report.
In response to an e-mail from investigators regarding the store’s policy about purchasing puppies from puppy mills, the store wrote that, “all the puppies are from privet breeders. We give u all the info where the puppy came from.”
When an investigator arrived at Hug-A-Pup in Portage Park, the owner was reportedly photographing puppies in their cages with artificial flowers for website advertisements. State inspectors received one complaint over the past two years claiming unsanitary and "malodorous" conditions but inspectors visited and said they found conditions acceptable.
Inspection documents show that the store obtains puppies from what appear to be unlicensed breeders in Indiana, as they could not be found in the USDA breeder database. In response to an inquiry asking for the store’s policy about buying puppies from puppy mills, the store’s representative wrote, “Yorkie puppies, Sire & Dam were both OUR dogs. Shih Tzu puppies. Breeder, family raised in there home.”
There's no mention of the origin of numerous other breeds available for sale on the store’s website. The owner was not in Monday, an employee said, and was not expected back until after the holidays.
A staff member at Top Dogs Puppy store responded defensively to puppy mill allegations Monday afternoon. Reports say that the store owner only produced puppy shot records and refused to name the breeders. When pressed, he said he was the breeder, then changed his answer and told investigators that the puppies came from Indiana.
Inspection records show that Top Dog's buys some of its puppies from Joseph Miller, a USDA-licensed breeder in Indiana with 78 dogs and 45 puppies reflected on his September 4, 2012 inspection report. In an e-mailed response to an inquiry about the origin of their puppies, Top Dog representative wrote, “No we do not purchase our pups from puppy mills. Many small breeds are bred by us and our breeders also we work with few small licensed breeders.”
The store owner's nephew, who said his name was Brandon but hung up the phone on a reporter Monday when asked for his last name, called the accusations lies.
"I do know that my uncle and grand dad don't operate from puppy mills," he said. "All of those things are posted in the store. These are false allegations. … Stores that couldn't comply, they closed down. We're obviously not one of those."
He said that all breeder information is available in a binder inside the shop. Top Dog's was listed among stores that did not comply with the pet shop disclosure law, however. Investigators said information was not posted in a conspicuous place, but rather, had to be requested.
No violations have been filed against the stores named in the Humane Society investigation, ABC 7 Chicago reports.
The Chicago-area sweep was the latest of three conducted in large U.S. cities to show pet stores' reliance on puppy mills.
“This investigation drives home the heartbreaking lesson that consumers can unwittingly support the vast cruelties of puppy mills if they patronize pet stores in search of a puppy,” said Melanie Kahn, senior director of the Humane Society's Puppy Mills Campaign.
Some store owners, like Raymond, contest that they're committed to keeping puppies happy and healthy.
"In the past, we've made mistakes," Raymond said. "But we are constantly trying to improve where we get our pets from. … I'm just trying to put pets with people in the best way we know we can."