When I first met Cari Meyers of The Puppy Mill Project nearly two years ago, she had a certain Chicago-area pet store chain in her sights. Her group had been getting calls from consumers about Furry Babies. Her small band of volunteers had been investigating and had started to put the pieces together for a consumer fraud lawsuit.
Today, The Puppy Mill Project’s 2 ½ years of investigating paid off when Furry Babies, Inc. was sued in LaSalle County Circuit Court claiming that the store sold sick puppies from puppy mills to unsuspecting consumers in violation of state consumer protection laws.
“This really was our labor of love,” says Meyers, founder of the organization. “We kept hearing from people that had purchased sick dogs or had dogs that they purchased from Furry Babies that died. They had been promised one product and sold a very different version. This was not only a case of consumer fraud, it was heartbreaking because it involved beloved family pets”
At the time, a few people that had purchased sick dogs had seen the organization protesting outside pet stores or heard about them in other ways. They reached out for help, not knowing where to turn to not only get restitution, but to prevent more sick dogs from being sold.
Various volunteers from The Puppy Mill Project went to work as a modern day Cagney and Lacey team. They interviewed families and looked at veterinary records. They visited the store hoping for information. All they could get at the store is the same line all shoppers get about dogs coming from “reputable breeders” known by the store owner.
When they pulled the USDA reports, all roads lead back to puppy mills in Ohio and Missouri. That list of puppy mills lead to more USDA reports outlining bad breeding practices and animal cruelty. Meyers and some members of the team met with Roger Trollinger, owner of Furry Babies hoping for action and got nowhere.
“We were just really starting to get some strong information about the dogs sold in his store and he was so vague,” says Meyers. “Our volunteers kept digging and making phone calls and talking to people who purchased dogs from Furry Babies. We really thought we had a case, but needed some legal assistance.”
That led to a connection with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and eventually the international law firm of Edward Wildman and the the legal team for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). They started working diligently to piece together a case that finally came to fruition today.
When I first met Cari Meyers, I knew quite a bit about puppy mills – the mass dog breeding operations licensed by the USDA. I knew about pet stores and online pet sales and their connection to puppy mills as well. In my circle of friends active in animal rescue, this is no secret. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world doesn’t know that.
“I’ve hit my head up against the wall from the moment I started this organization,” says Meyers. “So many consumers go into a pet store in good faith to purchase a puppy and are lied to from the moment they walk into the stores. They are told the dogs come from good breeders, that they have been vet checked and are up to date on shots and nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Furry Babies' lawsuit points to the store’s promotional material that claims the puppies are “hand-picked” and “nursery-raised.” The store goes so far as to show the puppies in cribs at the stores. What the investigation found was that dogs hadn’t been nursery-raised but had been deprived of social contact, shipped out at a younger age than animal welfare laws permit and that they were raised in filthy conditions. The list goes on and on.
“We tell so many people this is the case,” she adds. “Some don’t want to believe us and others see the pictures and open up a dialog with us and are just appalled. Some people find out for the first time when the puppy they wanted so badly to add to their family becomes very sick and the veterinary bills start to add up.”
The Puppy Mill Project is a consumer advocacy organization that educates the public about puppy mills and their connection to pet stores, online sales and pets sold in ads. The group offers educational programs, works on legislation and holds protests outside pet stores.
Since I first met Meyers, we’ve had discussions over and over again about the whole consumer fraud aspect of puppy mills. In the supply and demand side of economics, Missouri, Iowa and Ohio supply many dogs and Illinois provides the willing consumers. The true story behind the adorable puppies in the window is very scary.
Just recently, Illinois lawmakers passed a “puppy lemon law” aimed at giving consumers who purchase sick puppies from pet stores some legal recourse. The bill specifically focuses on pet stores and not small breeders, rescues or animal shelters. That bill is awaiting Governor Pat Quinn’s signature.
Due to concerns about puppies coming from disreputable sources, some cities have banned the sale of dogs in pet stores, such as a recent ordinance passed in Los Angeles and others are considering it.
See a story detailing the lawsuit - Chicago Pet Store Sued for Consumer Fraud
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