By Kathy Mordini
A Chicago pet store chain is facing a consumer fraud lawsuit in Lasalle County Circuit Court for allegedly selling sick puppies from puppy mills to unsuspecting consumers. The suit, which was filed on June 5, 2013, accuses Furry Babies, Inc. of violating state consumer protection laws for frequently acquiring puppies from puppy mills while claiming to be working with reputable breeders.
The lawsuit was filed by the international law firm Edwards Wildman, along with attorneys from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Work on the lawsuit actually began over 2 ½ years ago when Chicago-based advocacy group The Puppy Mill Project started to field consumer complaints about the sick puppies sold at the chain.
The suit alleges that Furry Babies misrepresents the origin of the puppies they sell in violation of state law by claiming to sell “hand-picked” and “nursery-raised” puppies from reputable breeders. The suit also claims the chain frequently acquires puppies from inhumane breeding facilities known as puppy mills. These operations often produce puppies with physical ailments and behavioral problems due to the intense, unsanitary confinement and overbreeding practices endemic to these facilities.
“This slick network of puppy abusers is deceiving consumers and profiting from the extreme mistreatment and neglect of helpless animals. Furry Babies’ corporate greed for ‘puppy’ profits has led them to break the law.” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the ALDF.
The Puppy Mill Project got involved with the investigation over 2 ½ years ago after they found themselves fielding complaints from consumers about the store. Volunteers from the organization did extensive interviews, investigated leads, and worked on developing the case. Those complaints ranged from dogs dying of parvovirus to puppies that had other major health issues that generally don’t occur when proper breeding protocols and veterinary procedures are followed.
“We received a multitude of complaints about Furry Babies and, as a nonprofit, could only take the case so far,” explains Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “The more we found out about what was going on, the more we wanted to find a way to help this group of consumers. This had become our labor of love to make things right for them by connecting them with a legal team to help make that happen.”
The lawsuit claims that in contrast to the stores’ promotional materials, Furry Babies puppies are frequently born, raised, and transported in filthy conditions. These dogs are deprived of social contact and shipped at younger ages than permitted by animal welfare laws.
The USDA, the federal agency which licenses breeding facilities that sell dogs to pet stores, has repeatedly cited Furry Babies’ suppliers for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. Some of Furry Babies suppliers were cited for failing to tend to dogs with excessively matted fur and overgrown nails, causing deformities, lameness and severe discomfort. The reports also point to dogs living in waste-filled conditions that were hospitable to vermin, dogs without bedding in sub-zero temperatures, and dogs with untreated diseases.
“Furry Babies reaps huge profits by selling puppy mill puppies to well-intentioned dog lovers who would never knowingly buy a puppy bred in inhumane conditions,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation at the HSUS. “Families often bear the great expense of veterinary treatment for sick dogs, or the terrible anguish of losing a beloved family pet. It’s time to stop this shameless industry from abusing consumers and dogs alike.”
In the fall of 2012, The HSUS conducted an undercover investigation of several Chicago-area pet stores and found that Furry Babies routinely obtains puppies from puppy mills and violates the Illinois laws requiring disclosure of puppy origins. The report validated much of the work Meyers group had already uncovered about the pet store.
“I’ve been hitting my head up against the wall since I started The Puppy Mill Project trying to get people to understand that this is consumer fraud,” adds Meyers. “Pet stores like Furry Babies will tell you over and over again that they get their dogs from reputable breeders. USDA documentation shows that isn’t the case.”
Recently, the Illinois legislature passed a “Puppy Lemon Law” that gives consumers recourse if they purchase puppies or kittens with undisclosed, severe health conditions resulting from inhumane and irresponsible breeding in puppy mills. The bill, which now awaits governor Pat Quinn’s signature, focuses on pets sold in pet stores and doesn’t cover pets obtained from small breeders, shelters, or rescues.
Due to concerns about puppies coming from disreputable sources, some cities are considering measures to ban the sale of dogs from puppy mills in pet stores, such as a recent ordinance passed in Los Angeles.
“Some people shop in pet stores for their pets and don’t want to hear or see where the dogs really come from,” adds Meyers. “Others just didn’t know and want to learn more so they don’t get duped. Unfortunately, too many people find out the truth after they purchase a dog that gets sick and amasses a large veterinary bill.”