Sick and For Sale
Hank Investigates: Sick and For Sale
A scary morning for the Ryan family. Their beloved Brownie is headed for major knee surgery. Without this expensive operation, their pet won't be able to walk.
"This is a serious problem a genetic problem."
Roxanne, this baby pug, battled kennel cough and pneumonia so severe her owners raced her to the emergency room.
"This dog was so sick she couldn't even pick up her head to look at us."
Diamond, this tiny yorkie, has a heart murmur and respiratory infection -- her owner knows the puppy may not live.
"She's tried three kinds of medication and nothing seems to work."
These very sick animals have one thing in common -- they were purchased in Massachusetts pet shops. And though the stores promised the pups were healthy -- days later vets gave the owners devastating news: they weren't.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"Are they supposed to be selling sick dogs?"
Kara Holmquist, MSPCA
"Of course not."
"Then how are they getting away with it?"
"The law as it stands now is not enough of an incentive for pet shops to stop selling sick puppies."
In fact though the state has strict health and safety rules pet shops are supposed to follow -- our investigation found there's no effective way to enforce them! And State Department of Agriculture officials admit it.
Dianne Petit, State Dept. of Agriculture
"It could be a ticking bomb."
"What do you think about that?"
"Oh sure, it worries us."
As a result we found some people hoping for a lifelong companion: wind up with enormous vet bill, and enormous heartbreak.
"She suffered a lot."
When Lisa brought Dakota home: this health certificate from the pet shop promised the malamute was healthy. Turns out that she actually had mange -- so severe her skin blistered and her hair fell out.
"You could see the pain, you could see what she was going through."
It was so bad that Dakota was finally put to sleep. Her vet said the pet shop should have known Dakota was not fit for sale.
"Had she been sick from day one?"
"She had been sick from day one."
How many sick dogs are sold? No one knows -- because no one keeps track. And by analyzing inspection reports from every pet shop in the state. We discovered the system's not set up to prevent it! Though some shops had spotless records, we found some with repeated complaints about sick animals and health violations -- breaking the rules again and again -- and getting away with it.
"Are they afraid of the inspectors?"
"So the bad ones just stay in business."
"The bad ones just stay in business."
Here's why: when inspectors find violations, usually nothing happens. That's because right now, state law does not allow inspectors to issue fines or penalties! Itís like being stopped for speeding and all the trooper can say is: don't do that again, ok?
"So you canít say fix this or else: because you have no or else."
The Department of Agriculture is now pushing hard for this legislation -- it allows significant fines each time pet shops they break the rules. Even some pet shop owners told us they support the bill.
But unless the law changes, these people know what can happen to your pets as a result. Last month, Roxanne was buried here.
"She was like a child to us. Itís as if we lost our baby."
Right now, you don't have much recourse if you purchase a pet that's unhealthy. State law gives you two weeks to return an animal for replacement or refund --but unlike some other states, Massachusetts does not require pet stores to pay for vet bills. In the newsroom, Iím Hank Phillippi Ryan.
For more information:
7Web Chat: Click here for the transcript of a chat held on 4/26/2002.
Massachusetts Department of Agriculture
The state agency responsible for inspecting, investigating complaints and regulating pet shops.
To file a complaint: 617-626-1795
Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-MSPCA
This agency also investigates complaints about pet shops.
Kara Holmquist, (617) 541-5008
House Bill 2012
House Bill 2012, Sponsored by Rep. Reed Hillman