Latest HSUS investigation shows Petland store in Florence, KY, selling sick puppies

Our latest investigation reveals shocking and deceptive tactics used by a corporate-run Petland store to sell a sick puppy to a shopper working on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States, and to keep customers in the dark about other disease outbreaks among animals for sale at the store.

In October, our shopper bought an underweight puppy at the Florence, Kentucky, Petland store. What we already knew– because we had an undercover investigator working at the store — was that the puppy, Jasper, had been sick for weeks with bloody diarrhea and had a poor appetite. But when our shopper showed an interest in buying him and asked about his health, Petland staffers told them the pup was “perfectly healthy,” and “very healthy.”

What we also knew was that Jasper had never been taken to a veterinarian for his illness, and had only received a 45-second intake exam by a veterinarian in the store when he first arrived a month earlier – consistent with what all other puppies entering the store received. Still, when our buyer asked what ailed Jasper, a manager – unqualified to offer a proper veterinary medical diagnosis – tried to convince her that it was “not campylobacter,” a bacterium directly associated with animals at several Petland stores that can spread to people, and that causes diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain.

After buying Jasper, we took him to Dr. Michelle Gonzalez, an independent veterinarian in Dublin, Ohio, who found the pup was indeed positive for campylobacter and giardia, both diseases that are contagious to humans. Dr. Gonzalez also found that underneath Jasper’s deceptively fluffy coat, he was “skin and bones.” Our investigator, who worked in the store the whole time Jasper was there, says this was because Jasper had been too sick to eat much. The manager and staff at Petland, the investigator related, were aware of it, but attributed his lack of appetite and bloody diarrhea to “stress.”

Jasper was indeed stressed, but only because he was severely sick.

Unfortunately, he was not the only sick puppy at this store. During the seven weeks our investigator worked at the store between September 11 and October 25, several puppies came down with devastating distemper and parvovirus. Some of the puppies died of these diseases, which can be fatal but are easily preventable with the right vaccines.

Records we obtained from the Kentucky Department for Public Health show 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. The most recent case was our own investigator, who stopped working at the store after testing positive for the bacterium, which had been giving them gastric upset, nausea and a fever for at least a week.

But despite knowing that campylobacter had been repeatedly linked to its Florence store, the store’s managers rarely, if ever, sent abnormal stools to their veterinarian to test puppies for diseases. This included Jasper; even though he displayed bloody diarrhea right in front of our buyer, the manager told her Jasper was fine and had had a fecal test. But the store never provided documentation of that test to our buyer, and when one of our investigators called the store veterinarian’s office a week later, the office didn’t provide a record of it either.

Our investigator rushed this very sick Teddy Bear puppy to an emergency vet clinic in Ohio. It was there that the investigator was told that the Petland store in Florence had experienced another distemper outbreak in April 2019. Photo by the HSUS

This is the eighth Petland store we’ve investigated in less than two years, and this time we chose a store run by the corporation – instead of a franchisee – to see if their practices would be any better. Unfortunately, they weren’t. We caught at least one employee on camera admitting that some of the puppies came into the store without being vaccinated by the breeder who supplied them.

Our hidden camera investigation also found the store was keeping shoppers in the dark about the animals’ health problems. For instance, instead of warning the public about its distemper outbreak, the store put signs on every cage stating the animals couldn’t be played with because they had just arrived and were awaiting their veterinary exams. Many of the puppies had, in fact, been in the store much longer, and visitors who touched them could have carried the disease home to their own pets. We also found Petland moved some of the puppies, who had potentially been exposed to distemper in the Kentucky store, to a new store in Carmel, Indiana, in the dark of night.

The Petland store’s failure to arrange for professional veterinary care for Jasper and other sick puppies is extremely disturbing. Florence’s animal care laws also require commercial animal establishments to “provide proper medical treatment from a veterinarian for sick or injured animals.”

We have reported our findings to the local authorities, and provided them with footage and documents obtained during our investigation. We are hopeful they will take action to stop this mistreatment of puppies at the Petland store. Some of our investigations at Petland have resulted in local authorities bringing charges or citations against store owners: for instance, a Petland store in Frisco, Texas, was cited for animal care issues after we revealed problems there in September, and two managers who worked at the Petland store in Fairfax, Virginia, will be in court in January to face animal cruelty charges after our April undercover investigation revealed numerous dead animals in the freezer. That store is now closed.

Meanwhile, Jasper is doing much better. Once he began treatment for his illness, he began to recover and his appetite came roaring back. Within days he had gained about three pounds. He is now getting the care he needs, but Petland stores around the country continue to sell puppies sourced from puppy mills even as the corporation continues to fight commonsense laws to stop the exploitation of animals by commercial breeders. Petland’s actions come at great cost to animal lives as well as to human health, as our eight investigations have revealed, and we will continue to shine the light on this mistreatment for as long as it continues.

Urge Petland to stop selling puppies

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