By Mark Ackerman and Brian Maass
WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) – A Westminster pet store has promised to stop selling dogs obtained from private families after a CBS4 investigation revealed the store regularly purchased puppies from unlicensed sources.
In September, Puppies N’ Stuff sold a Chihuahua-Miniature Pinscher mix to Linda Fick.
Within a week of purchasing the puppy, Fick’s dog died from parvo, a viral infection that can be fatal.
“I didn’t imagine in a million years that I was going to buy a sick puppy, and that it was going to pass away a few days later,” said Fick.
When CBS4 inquired, Puppies N’ Stuff owner Sandy McDonald said the puppy Fick purchased came from “a private family in Commerce City” who is “not a breeder, just a family whose dog had puppies.”
In August, employees at Puppies N’ Stuff told an undercover CBS4 producer, “We get most of our dogs from private people. They have a litter of puppies and bring them over.”
Nick Fisher, who regulates animal care facilities for the Colorado Department of Agriculture said the practice of buying puppies from unlicensed sources is illegal.
“We would actually look at any backyard breeder who was doing that as a wholesale facility,” said Fisher. “They would be required to be licensed.”
The Department of Agriculture has now launched an investigation into where Puppies N’ Stuff gets its puppies.
In a recent email to CBS4, McDonald wrote: “Effective today, we will no longer be purchasing puppies from private families in the area. This is a shame because there are a lot of puppies that we find homes for that I am not sure what will happen to them now.”
This summer CBS4 visited a second pet store, Pet City in Aurora, to try to determine the origin of the dogs for sale there.
An undercover producer asked for more information about some yellow Labrador Retrievers selling for $900 each.
A Pet City employee showed paperwork on the Labradors that traced back to a breeder named Shelli Kershner, from Rush Center, Kansas.
In 2006, the State of Kansas seized 90 of Kershner’s dogs because they weren’t receiving enough food and water.
More recently, Kershner made the Humane Society’s “2014 Horrible Hundred List.”
“It is a list of problem facilities that have repeated violations of basic animal care standards,” said Humane Society of the U.S. spokesperson Kathleen Summers.
Summers said Kershner made their list because federal inspectors found unsafe conditions at her kennels and dogs suffering from a lack of care.
“I would call her a puppy mill,” said Summers. “We found repeated instances where dogs were suffering from veterinary problems. There was a dog that had its eye crusted shut because of a severe eye problem.”
Casey Ellis, the owner of Pet City, confirmed she has purchased hundreds of dogs from Kershner over the past six years. She said she was aware that Kershner was named on the Humane Society’s Horrible Hundred list but said, “Any commercial breeder would be a puppy mill to them.”
Ellis said Kershner’s most recent USDA inspection was violation free. Kershner did not respond to CBS4’s requests for comment.
In California, lawmakers are attempting to cut puppy mills and backyard breeders out of the equation, becoming the first state to pass a law that bans pet stores from selling dogs from breeders. California pet stores will only be able to sell rescue dogs.
Colorado lawmakers are not currently considering anything that drastic, but are looking into a set of consumer protections for pet buyers.
As for Linda Fick, she received a refund from Puppies N’ Stuff after her dog died.
Fick also said before buying another dog, “I learned I need to do my homework.”