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I-Team: Webster Shop Still Selling Sick Puppies

WEBSTER (CBS) - A Webster puppy store exposed by the I-Team several months ago for selling sick dogs is back at it, WBZ has learned.

Elite Puppies has been the subject of dozens of complaints from customers who say their puppies got sick and in some cases died within days of leaving the shop.

After the I-Team's story in November, angry customers and animal advocates began protesting outside the store. More than 1600 people have signed an online petition demanding the state pull the store's license.

In the weeks after our investigation, the state Division of Animal Health levied fines against Elite Puppies in four cases.

But in March, Jason Desmarais of Sturbridge bought his puppy Harley from Elite. "As soon as we saw Harley looking up at me so sad, I said you know we've got to get this dog," he said.

Within days he knew something was wrong and the vet confirmed it. Harley had severe pneumonia, a bad case of parasites and other illnesses.

"The vet told me if I hadn't brought him there within a couple of hours he would've been dead," Jason said.

Harley was placed on oxygen and after two overnight stays in the hospital his veterinarian bills totaled more than $5000.

Others tell similar stories in an online petition. After seeing the past complaints against Elite and its owner Jennifer Gardner, Jason wonders "how come she's still selling puppies?"

The I-Team posed that question to Michael Cahill, Director of the Division of Animal Health. The agency licenses and inspects pet stores.

"When you are talking about the number of complaints they've received you have to look at that in context of the number of dogs they've sold," he explained. "I think based on the number dogs they've sold it's not an excessive amount."

He did say in his 21 years with the state he could only recall one pet store having its license revoked.

Change could be coming from Beacon Hill, however. Representative Bruce Ayers of Quincy has proposed a bill he says would crack down on puppy mills and on the stores that sell dogs from commercial breeders.

"It will increase fines and penalties for pet stores that don't comply with the USDA standards. They'll have to reimburse their customers for veterinary bills," Ayers explained.

Elite's owner, Jennifer Gardner, did not return the I-Team's call for comment.

Jason says she did offer to give him another puppy if he returned Harley, but no reimbursement for the vet bills. It was not a deal he felt he could accept.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable bringing him back there. It would be on my conscience," he said.

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