Hidden cameras expose problems in pet stores and flea markets, while shelters have hundreds of available puppies
Dogs in the sweltering Texas heat in open-air flea markets, employees refusing to tell consumers information on the source of the dogs, and unhealthy and underage puppies pouring in from out-of-state puppy mills and brokers were among the findings of a multifaceted undercover investigation. Conducted by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the investigation touched 34 pet stores and flea markets across Texas and hundreds of shipping records as part of the examination of how dogs are treated by the pet industry in the state.
As pet stores sold dogs to unwitting consumers in the state, Texas animal shelters struggled to adopt out healthy dogs, including puppies. Our team found that in the same communities where pet stores traded in dogs imported from puppy mills throughout the country, local shelters had dozens of puppies available for adoption.
Katie Jarl, The HSUS’ Texas state director said: “Texans who purchase puppies at pet stores and flea markets may be surprised to know that the puppy they are buying isn’t from Texas at all. The puppy may even have come from an unlicensed breeder or puppy mill, which typically deny veterinary care to dogs and peddle sick dogs to consumers.”
Investigators visited pet stores in and around Corpus Christi, Dallas, Houston, McAllen and San Antonio, and flea markets in Canton, Dallas and Houston. The HSUS investigators studied shipping documents for more than 1,400 puppies shipped into Texas from five of the most notorious puppy mill states – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – many from breeders with federal Animal Welfare Act violations.
• At the Dog Alley flea market in Canton, investigators witnessed lethargic, underweight and sickly-looking puppies; dogs and puppies panting heavily in the extreme heat, some dogs without shade from the sun; animals without water; and underage puppies for sale whose eyes weren’t even open yet.
• At Partners Pet Center in Round Rock and Pet Fair in The Woodlands, investigators found puppies who had arrived at the store at only six to seven weeks old; it is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act regulations for USDA-licensed breeders to sell puppies younger than eight weeks old to pet stores.
• While nearby East Texas animal shelters regularly have 30-50 Texas-born puppies available on a given day, public records documented more than 400 puppies shipped to Dog Alley flea market in Canton by animal dealers in top puppy mill states such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
• The Puppies Direct pet store in McKinney purchased at least 10 puppies from a dealer on The HSUS’ “A Horrible Hundred” list (Becky Franks of Antlers, Okla.) who had terminated her license during a USDA inspection in May 2013 in which numerous repeat violations of the Animal Welfare Act were reported. She was no longer legally licensed to sell to pet stores at the time of the sale.
• Pet stores in Harlingen, Humble, San Antonio and Weslaco, and sellers at the Dog Alley flea market, either admitted to buying puppies from unlicensed breeders or were linked to unlicensed breeders via shipping records. While it is not always illegal to sell dogs from unlicensed breeders, it is risky for consumers to buy a puppy from a breeder who may have never been inspected for any basic standards of health and humane care.
• Many sales people who claimed to offer puppies from Texas breeders said there is no law in Texas that requires commercial breeders to be licensed, which is false.
• At Partners Pet Center in Round Rock, an HSUS investigator noticed that the puppy she was holding was crawling with fleas. USDA inspection reports show that one of the store’s breeders (Susan Franz of Belton, Texas) was cited by the USDA for numerous animal care problems, including a severe flea infestation. In May, Franz was given an official warning by the USDA for failure to provide adequate veterinary care and other issues.
• Investigators found both Paradise Fish and Pets in Humble and Hollywood Puppies in San Antonio purchasing from an unlicensed breeder (Gordon Blakesley of Mount Holly, Ark.), who cancelled his USDA license in September 2012.
Consumers and dog lovers should be aware that they can’t always believe what they are told by pet store or flea market staff. With so many Texas puppies available in shelters, adoption should be the first option. When going to a breeder, buyers should take care to avoid middlemen, visit the breeder in person to see how the dogs are raised, and ask to see a license if the breeder has more than a few breeding dogs.
• Puppy mills are large-scale commercial breeding facilities that often neglect the basic health and welfare of the dogs in their care. While their puppies are typically sold at eight weeks of age, the parent dogs at puppy mills often spend their entire lives in small wire cages with little to no veterinary care, personal attention or exercise.
Puppy mills sell puppies through pet stores, classifieds and over the Internet. The majority of dogs currently sold in pet stores come from puppy mills.
• The HSUS estimates there are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, thousands of which supply puppies to pet stores.
• More than 2,100 pet stores nationwide, including more than 50 in Texas, have signed The HSUS’s Puppy Friendly Pet Stores pledge, promising not to sell puppies and to support homeless pet adoptions instead.