Family: Pet shop sold us sick dog

Family warns others about risks of buying pets form pet stores

A local family is heartbroken after they said they bought a sick dog from a pet shop-- and despite the warranties the store offers-- they believe not enough was done to save the puppy.

News 6's investigation starts at the Petland location at Waterford Lakes. News 6 Investigator Mike Holfeld spoke to an employee there. We aren't using her name or showing her face.

[WEB EXTRAS:  Buying a puppy GuideSample Health Certificate | Florida's Pet Lemon Law | VIDEO: Vet advice

"Is there a manager we can speak to?" asked Holfeld. "We're trying to get their side of the story because we have allegations that pets were sold that were ill. I mean, have you had those allegations before?"

"Yeah, I mean, it's a pet store, we get it all the time," said the Petland employee.

"I mean, expensive dogs, you don't sell them sick, do you?" asked Holfeld.

"No, no, it's just when the vet comes and signs their health certificate, that's the vet," said the employee. "We go based on what the vet has told us, so the health certificate says they're healthy, that's what we know from the vet. It's when they take it to the vet, it's when they get upset because the vet tells them something different."

That's exactly what Ashley Werkeiser said happened to her when she and her fiance bought Bear, a Shiba Inu puppy, back in May.

"I was in love with him from the first moment I laid eyes on him," said Werkeiser.

Store employees told her he was sick at first and he had to finish medications before he would be certified by the vet. Werkeiser said that was the first red flag she should have paid attention to. But two weeks later, Bear was cleared to come home.

"I was elated," said Werkeiser. "Maybe it's not going to be the nightmare I think it's going to be. I'm hoping for the best, trying to be optimistic."

But she said that didn't last long.

"He refused to eat, wouldn't take any treats," said Werkeiser, describing Bear's behavior after he arrived at home. "He just kind of laid around, he didn't want to play, he really just wanted to cuddle and sleep. He wasn't acting like a normal puppy."

As part of Petland's policy, puppies have to see the store's contracted vet within four days of purchase to be covered under warranty. So Werkeiser took Bear in to get checked out.

"That was pretty much the last time I saw the puppy for three weeks," said Werkeiser.

Petland, through its claims company PAWsitive Solutions, did cover most of Bear's expenses for that hospital stay. Hospital records show that those expenses included diagnostic tests like blood work, radiography testing and a barium series. However, although Bear started eating properly and his behavior returned to normal, Werkeiser said she never got a clear diagnosis on what had been wrong.

She said Bear seemed better at first, but shortly after he came home, he started having seizures. Over time, they progressively got worse.

"He kept having the seizures, like one after another," said Werkeiser. "They would last for minutes at a time, with only one to five minutes in between."

So it was back to the vet, but when Werkeiser called PAWsitive Solutions this time, she was told the warranty didn't cover diagnostic tests.

"PAWsitive Solutions told my fiance over the phone, even if we have a diagnosis, we still may not do anything to help you," said Werkeiser. "They knew they gave us a sick dog and would do nothing to help. It was devastating, it was absolutely heartbreaking."

Feeling helpless, the young couple decided to have Bear put down.

"I couldn't let him suffer anymore," said Werkeiser. "I'm a mom and I fell in love with this puppy. I'm so angry and I'm heartbroken and it makes me sick to my stomach."

This isn't the first time Petland has been accused of selling sick dogs. News 6 found several complaints made with the state and with the Better Business Bureau. Most of the complaints alleged puppies were sold with an intestinal parasite called giardia, which is treatable.

Petland told News 6 all kennels are sanitized completely at least once per day and stated throughout the day, the kennel staff is constantly cleaning, sanitizing, and wiping trays, grates, windows, kennel sides and any surfaces that could cause cross-contamination.

Still, Werkeiser said she's not surprised there have been other complaints.

"These pet stores, they fill your head and heart with these grand delusions that, 'If you buy this puppy from us, we're going to help you take care of this puppy, all these puppies go through this stringent testing, and guidelines,' and it's all crap," said Werkeiser.

Petland owner Ben Hoofnagle did email News 6 the following statement---

"[W]e take the health of our puppies very seriously and care deeply for them. If we were to send home a puppy when it is not healthy, it would be bad for business and it would go against our mission of finding the best homes for healthy puppies. We strive to do our best to fulfill this, but we realize puppies are living animals... [N]o matter how hard we try, an environment with many children, or puppies in this case, still has the risk of spreading germs."

Now, Florida does have what's called the Pet Lemon Law, which requires pet stores to give customers health information on the puppy they're purchasing, and protects the owner in many situations should the puppy get sick. But you do have to have documentation-- and as Werkeiser found out the hard way-- you need to have a diagnosis to get your money back or exchange the pet.

Hoofnagle said most cases do not apply under the Lemon Law, so his store provides its warranty and frequently goes above and beyond the warranty.

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