Christmas grief: Family says good-bye to pet store puppy

Christmas grief: Family says good-bye to pet store puppy
Pico settled in quickly in his new home after he was purchased from Happiness Is Pets. Photo Courtesy of Priscilla Zawislak.

If you’re thinking of adding a puppy to the family this holiday season, an area mom has some advice – steer clear of your local pet store if they sell pets. Priscilla Zawislak found out the hard way when a pet store puppy they purchased at Happiness Is Pets in Lombard four months ago had to be euthanized a few days ago. The Min Pin they had named Pico had a congenital kidney defect.

Zawisiak’s story had started after they had lost their previous Min Pin. That dog was diagnosed diabetic at the age of five and died last year in October. Dolce had been very close to her six-year-old daughter and Zawislak finally started to consider adding a new dog a few months ago.

It was love at first site when Priscilla  Zawislak's daughter met Pico.

It was love at first site when Priscilla Zawislak's daughter met Pico.

“My Mother-in-law had taken my daughter to Happiness Is Pets and she just fell in love with this dog,” she said. “I wasn’t quite there yet and didn’t want to pay $1,000 for a dog. We finally went in five days later to check out the pet store puppy. At that time, they assured me he had come from a good bloodline, not a puppy mill. After losing our previous dog to congenital problems, we wanted to be careful.”

Zawislak had never purchased a pet store puppy before. But, from the start, she started to notice things about Pico. He was missing a toenail when they purchased him. He vomited more frequently than he should have and he had weird patterns of fur missing from his back. When he went in for a vaccination, he passed out from the shot. Shortly after that, things took a turn for the worse with her pet store puppy.

“Pico just lost his appetite and was drinking and urinating a lot and had gotten so thin. Since our last dog was diabetic, I was very concerned and I took him into our veterinarian,” says Zawislak. “He's a puppy and I thought maybe he swallowed something he shouldn’t have. They took an x-ray and that wasn’t the problem, he had a huge mass in the middle of his body and the vet thought the kidney was suspect.”

They checked his blood and found the protein levels off. They decided to treat him with antibiotics and fluids for a few days. While Pico’s temperature stabilized, he did not and needed an ultrasound. She called all over to see if any clinic would give her a break.

Pico became very sick his last weeks.

Pico became very sick his last weeks.

“I finally called Happiness is Pets and told them all that was going on and what my vet suspected and pointed out the toll the veterinary bills were taking on our family,” she said. “They called back very quickly and told me they would pay for the vet if we took him to one of their veterinarians. We took him to Naperville Animal Hospital and his kidney levels tripled overnight – he was just lifeless.”

She had brought him his favorite food, blanket and toy, but Pico was almost gone. When the vet said it would take a miracle for him to recover, Zawislak ended up having Pico euthanized. At this point, Happiness is Pets had agreed to pick up those vet bills and offered to refund her half of her money. The veterinarian told her his renal failure was from a congenital condition.

“When I got home, I pulled his papers and Googled where he came from and it led to the Amish puppy mills in Indiana,” says Zawislak. “The puppy mill and broker were all part of the Graber family and that broker Levi Graber – was highlighted in a news report on the Indiana puppy pipeline several years ago (see below).”

Her search also found stories related to the consumer fraud case filed against Happiness Is Pets along with other stories of sick puppies sold by the store. When she confronted the store with this information, they offered to refund her the purchase price of her puppy.

Pico at the Veterinary Hospital.

Pico at the Veterinary Hospital.

“The store manager seemed surprised that Pico was a puppy mill dog and they offered us another dog,” Zawislak added. “I turned down the dog because we just can’t go through this again. I would advise skipping purchasing a pet at a pet store. If you feel it's something you want to do, bring your smart phone along and look at the breeder information and Google it while you’re in the store before you purchase anything. What you find will most likely change your mind.”

Another bizarre twist in the story is that she discovered the Min Pin she rescued originally - Dolce - had actually come from the same pet store. She had taken in the dog when a customer of hers at her salon could no longer keep her. She didn’t find out the pet store connection until after she got her new puppy.

“A lot of it makes more sense now. This poor puppy suffered so much his last few weeks and there are so many more like him out there,” says Zawislak. If you’d like to learn more about puppy mills and the mothers left behind, check out information on The Puppy Mill Project’s website. There is a page of information that connects pet stores to the breeders they use. There is also an informative site created by veterinarians called Pupquest.

On January 1, Illinois' Puppy Lemon Law goes into effect that will offer consumers some protection by requiring pet stores to reimburse consumers or offer a new puppy when sick pets or sold or a puppy or kitten dies.

Before considering purchasing a pet store puppy, check out these stories on Happiness Is Pets, Petland and Furry Babies along with this story about an Iowa puppy mill. If you are interested in pure breeds, there are many breed specific rescues and around 25 percent of shelter pets are pure breeds. If you are going to a breeder, the good breeders will ask you more questions than you ask them and will check references, etc because they are concerned about where their dogs (and cats) are going.

Here's a story of a puppy mill rescue in a new home, Mimsy's story and a letter to Santa from a puppy mill rescue.

This report aired on WTHR in Indiana - notice how the good breeders treat their dogs...

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats & Dogs.

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