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Pet Store Ban? Talks Underway After More Than A Decade Of Complaints About Sick Puppies

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) – For anyone looking to get a new furry family member, pet stores may not be an option in Colorado for much longer. A bill calling for a statewide ban on the retail sales of dogs and cats could be debated in the upcoming session, according to stakeholders associated with the bill discussions.

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(credit: CBS)

The exploration of such legislation comes as the Colorado Department of Agriculture says it is investigating a local puppy store, yet again, for allegedly selling sick puppies.

Since 2002, CBS4 has reported about such complaints against that store, Puppies N Stuff, located in Westminster. Dozens of customers have claimed they purchased their new puppy there, only for the dog to get sick and die not long after.

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Puppies N Stuff in Westminster (credit: CBS)

Activists believe it's because stores like Puppies N Stuff may have gotten puppies from so-called puppy mills, or commercial breeders birthing puppies in poor conditions, where diseases can easily spread. They hope a new law banning the retail sale of dogs would stifle the demand for puppy mills.

"Once you cut off the demand, the supply is going to drop as well," explained Roland Halpern, Director of Colorado Voters for Animals, an animal rights lobbying group that has been involved in pet sale ban discussions in Colorado.

In fact, 309 cities and counties have passed local-level bans on retail pet sales, according to data provided by the animal rights group Best Friends. However, Halpern said a statewide ban is more effective.

"The bans at the local levels are good because it sends a message, but essentially what you have is when a ban is imposed, sometimes that mill will just move to another city or county or whatever, and so really you're just kind of avoiding the problem," Halpern said. "That's why we really need a statewide ban."

California and Maryland are the only two states to have passed statewide bans. Paw prints on an interactive map show which areas have passed those bans, and when those laws were made effective.

Jennifer Woods, of Broomfield, hopes Colorado will step up to the plate, too. In late July, Woods bought a Shiba Inu puppy from Puppies N Stuff as a birthday present for her 10-year-old son. She said the puppy, named Jax, got sick three days after he came home from the pet store.

First, Jax had diarrhea, but after several days, his condition worsened.

"He would stand up and couldn't stay up, he would just fall," Woods recalled. "That's what caught my attention to take him to the E.R."

It was at the emergency vet where she learned Jax's fate.

"They said what he had, had no cure, and they had to put him down," Woods said. "It's heartbreaking, you don't want to tell your son that 'I'm sorry, but Jax is not coming home with you.'"

Jax, the Shiba Inu puppy, died on August 14, 2019, according to vet documentation provided by his owner. (Credit: Jennifer Woods)

Woods said the loss was particularly hard on her family, as her 2-year-old son died a couple years ago.

"Getting Jax and going through what we went through, really brought it back to us. What we felt brought back a lot of memories and pain, and we were just heartbroken," Woods said. "Having to go through another loss really broke us."

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Jax (credit: Woods family)

Woods isn't alone. Just in the last two years, 11 complaints have been submitted to the state's Department of Agriculture alleging their puppies fell ill not long after coming home from Puppies N Stuff. Two of those complaints said the puppy in question was purchased as a Christmas present.

The owner of Puppies N Stuff declined an interview with CBS4, but said she believes Jax contracted his illness after leaving her store, and her store is not to blame for his death, because the puppy wasn't diagnosed until 15 days after purchase. However, the owner declined to answer questions about what breeders she gets her puppies from. The owner did say, however, she gave Woods a full refund for Jax, and inspection reports following up on the 11 other complaints indicate she gave refunds to those customers, as well.

Inspection reports following up on those complaints also show inspectors found zero violations at the store.

"One of the difficulties we have is establishing and having evidence to prove that store operator sold that animal and knew it was sick," explained Nick Fisher, the director of the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act Program, the facet of the Department of Agriculture that regulates pet stores.

Fisher explained the PACFA program is the oldest regulatory program for pet animals in the United States. While it currently plays an important role in protecting animal welfare in Colorado, Fisher said the program does not have the power to regulate pet animals from out of state.

"Frequently pet stores don't buy animals from Colorado, so they may buy animals from other states in order to sell them here, and we don't have the jurisdiction to regulate out of state animals," explained Fisher. "We do look to see if there's a certificate of veterinary inspection, because that's required upon import, even rescues have to have a certificate of veterinary inspection that must accompany that animal, so they have to be vaccinated for rabies."

But, Halpern said often those veterinary inspections are not very thorough. He said he has seen cases where the same vet certified up to 50 imported animals in one day.

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The Colorado Department of Agriculture (credit: CBS)

"When an animal is coming from out of state, they really have no way of knowing what was done with that veterinary inspection, so while it's well intended, it really doesn't have a lot of teeth in it," Halpern said.

Fisher said the PACFA program is looking at stronger rules and regulations to reduce the amount of diseased animals being imported from other states.

"We have dogs coming in with parvo, distemper, imported into the state, so we want to make sure you have some plan, not only what are you going to do with the dog when it gets here, and what happens when you sell or adopt that dog to somebody, how are you going to mitigate those concerns," Fisher said. "So those are future regulations that we're looking at."

He's not sure when those regulations will be put in place just yet. To learn more about PACFA's current rules and regulations, click here.

Halpern hopes those new program regulations, paired with a new state law, could be a big help in preventing more heartache for dog lovers.

"It's a one two punch," Halpern explained.

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Aux recovers from having Parvo after being adopted from Puppies N Stuff. (credit: Crawford family)

Woods hopes it will become a reality soon.

"I just hope that it just doesn't happen anymore," Woods said. "It's putting a lot of puppies and families in pain."

In the midst of this investigation, Puppies N Stuff made an announcement on its website, indicating it may be closing. During normal business hours on Tuesday, the store's doors were locked. The store owner has not clarified why the store is closing, or if it plans to reopen.

Meanwhile, Fisher has important advice for anyone looking to get a new pet.

"Don't do an impulse buy, do your research on where the animal came from," Fisher said. "The facilities have to provide that information; they have to tell you where the animal came from."

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