Susan Kern urges me to take a good look at the puppies in her store. “I want you to see that they’re happy and that they’re perfectly healthy,” she says.
Kern owns a Petland franchise in Rio Rancho. Petland Inc., an international corporation, has drawn the ire of animal rights organizations that say the company and its franchises sell dogs that come from puppy mills. Kern fully denies those allegations. “What a bunch of junk that is,” Kern says. “We are the gold standard of pet stores.”
Stephanie Shain is the director of the Humane Society’s national “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign. Shain defines a puppy mill as a place where dogs are kept in cages 24 hours a day and forced to produce puppies frequently. Dogs in puppy mills are kept under these conditions for years, Shain says, until they can no longer breed. On its website, the Humane Society of the United States says puppies born in these circumstances often suffer health and behavioral problems as a result of their poor treatment.
The society calls Petland Inc. the largest retailer of puppy mill dogs in the country. In November of last year, the organization published the findings of an eight-month investigation into Petland stores. Shain says the Humane Society visited 21 stores and 35 breeding operations where Petland dogs came from. Each breeder, according to the society, was a puppy mill.
“What a bunch of junk that is. We are the gold standard of pet stores.”
Susan Kern, owner of a Petland franchise
The investigation did not turn up any evidence that proves the Rio Rancho Petland store gets its dogs from puppy mills. Franchise owner Kern says she doesn’t have a list of the breeders she buys from.
Video on the Humane Society's website shows dogs in crowded wire cages clamoring for attention. Petland Inc. denies the footage documents breeding operations used by its stores, but the Humane Society stands behind its investigation.
Sheila ter Bruggen is a former board member of the Alliance for Albuquerque Animals, a group dedicated to helping homeless animals at city shelters. Bruggen says no reputable breeder would sell its dogs to a pet store. “A responsible breeder wants to interview you, maybe even go to your home,” Bruggen says. “They may even check up on the dog afterwards and make sure the pet is happy.”
Kern says she's tried to get in touch with members of the Alliance for ABQ Animals, but no one with the organization wanted to talk to her.
The Humane Society is a political action committee, Kern says, and its report is a ploy used to garner fundraising dollars. She adds that her shop uses only reputable breeders and backs every dog sold with a warranty. “Why would we sell unhealthy puppies if we have to stand behind them?” she asks. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“A responsible breeder wants to interview you, maybe even go to your home. They may even check up on the dog afterwards and make sure the pet is happy.”
Sheila ter Bruggen, a former board member of the Alliance for Albuquerque Animals
Sherry Mangold says she’s received 15 to 25 complaints about the Petland in Rio Rancho. She answers the phones at the state Attorney General’s Office animal cruelty hotline. Mangold says one caller told her they spent more than $1,000 on a puppy from Petland only to discover it needed double that in veterinary treatment. Mangold says Petland offered to give the customer another puppy, and the caller accepted without taking any further legal action.
Mangold's received similar complaints about other pet stores in Rio Rancho. All calls to the hotline are anonymous.
State Attorney General's Office spokesperson Lynn Southard says one complaint has been filed with her office against the Rio Rancho Petland. In October of last year, a puppy from there was diagnosed with giardia by a vet. The medical expenses amounted to a little more than $500. Petland reimbursed the owner for the entire vet bill.
On Tuesday, March 17, the Humane Society of the United States announced it’s filing a class-action lawsuit against Petland Inc. The Humane Society is joined by several other consumers who, according to the suit, were duped into unknowingly buying dogs from puppy mills. In a news release, Petland Inc. says it’s outraged by false allageations and calls the Humane Society a radical group.
Late last year, a class action suit was filed by two Petland franchise owners in Murfreesboro, Tenn., against Petland Inc. The lawsuit says many of the animals Petland Inc. encouraged the franchise owners to sell were seriously ill. The lawsuit also names the Hunte Corporation and blames the company for supplying sickly puppies.
Kern says before any of her dogs are shipped to her store, they’re inspected by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-certified veterinarian. “The dogs have to be given a clean bill of health,” Kern says. “Otherwise they won’t send them.” If dogs do get sick during their time in her store, Kern says, they’re treated promptly. “I get customers in the store all the time thanking me for their dogs,” Kern says. “They’re so happy because they know they got a quality pet.”
Petland’s website says every dog it sells comes from USDA-approved breeders. Shain says that doesn’t mean much. She says the USDA doesn’t have enough staff to frequently check all the breeding operations. Many of the approved breeders are given small fines for not following the law, but their certification is usually not revoked, according to the Humane Society’s website.
Kern says she owns seven dogs, two horses and two cats. One of her canines came from her store. “He’s a beautiful, beautiful dog,” Kern says. “He’s the best dog I’ve ever had.”