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I-Team: Former Kennel Employee Speaks Out About Deplorable Conditions

OXFORD (CBS) - A new bill aimed at preventing the sale of so called "puppy mill" dogs is up for debate in the Massachusetts state house. It's sparked by protests of pet sellers with a long history of complaints.

The I-Team has been exposing the problem for more than a year. Former employees, animal activists and angry customers say something needs to be done.

David Owens worked at Laughin Kennel in Oxford for two years. It was a mastiff with a deformed leg that made him start recording video and taking pictures inside.

"It just wasn't right. They kept him in a cage half his size. He couldn't even stand up," Owens told the I-Team.

Laughlin Kennels sits on Larned Road. Dogs are bred in an outdoor kennel. Several dozen puppies are kept in the cellar waiting to be sold.

Owens claims the dogs were kept in small cages, were often covered in feces and in some cases, died.

"I'd walk in in the morning. I'd walk into dead puppies and they'd just expect me to clean them up," he says.

The I-Team obtained complaints from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the agency responsible for regulating pet stores.

One complaint comes from Kathleen Casavant who lives across the street and sees the van loads of puppies shipped in, she says, from the Midwest.

"It's heartbreaking to hear them and see them," she told Lauren Leamanczyk. "I contacted the MDAR 3 years ago and never received a response."

Other complaints come from customers who say they bought dogs sick with kennel cough, parvovirus and pneumonia. Some say their puppies died.

They are the same types of complaints we uncovered when we investigated Elite Puppies of Webster. Since our investigation, Elite has closed its doors. Its former owner, Jennifer Gardner now works at Laughlin Kennel.

"We know that they are living animals and they can get sick," said Michael Cahill of MDAR's Division of Animal Health. He says they take that into account when inspecting pet sellers.

Last spring, the I-Team asked him why stores with multiple complaints can continue to sell sick animals.

"Has the state ever shut down a puppy store?" the I-Team asked. "There was one shop shut down within 21 years I've been at the department," Cahill explained.

Laughlin Kennel is fighting back against those who are calling into questions their health and safety practices. They deny most of Owens' allegations, calling them "ridiculous."

In an email, the owner insisted their dogs do not come from puppy mills and their death rate is low.

In a statement Laughlin Kennel tells the I-Team "our facilities are inspected and licensed with several surprise inspections throughout the year... I can assure everyone that if there were inhumane conditions, we would not be allowed to stay in business."

Casavant and Owens say based on what they've seen, the inspections don't cut it. They want a change in the law.

"The state has got to step up and pass a law banning this," Cassavant said.

"There needs to be something to regulate it because it's not fair for someone to spend 1500 dollars to buy a dog from a puppy mill," Owens said.

Legislation being debated Thursday would tighten up protections for customers who buy sick dogs from pet stores. It would also regulate some of the sale of dogs in Massachusetts from so called "puppy mills."

Around the country several cities have moved to ban any sales of puppies that come from commercial breeders. Massachusetts' bill does not go that far.

Sponsor Rep. Bruce Ayers of Quincy says he modeled it after Connecticut's regulations.

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