Puppy owners paid thousands for pets that were supposed to be healthy — but the pets nearly died

What to look for before you buy or adopt any pet

LARGO, Fla. — Kimberly Durham thought a health certificate and $2,499 price tag ensured she was bringing home a healthy puppy. But 'Coco Rose' wound up with double pneumonia, a double ear infection and parasites days after leaving Petland Largo.

Veterinarian Kevin Kelley examined Coco Rose and referred her to an emergency animal hospital where she spent several days. Durham showed us three thousand dollars in vet bills.

Looking back, Jake Rudy says his puppy acted sickly in the same store.

Related: Customer accuses Petland of selling her a sick dog following lawsuit filed in 2017

Within a day of shelling out just under $2,000 for 'Ted' the puppy’s health deteriorated. We confirmed Rudy took him to Petland’s vet two days after purchase.

In less than a week Ted wound up with late-stage pneumonia and near death at a Sarasota animal hospital.

Durham and Rudy are among seven pet owners who tell us they purchased sick pups at Petland Largo.

We reviewed owner records and reports filed with the Attorney General after interviewing customer Indra Jenkins earlier this year. Jenkins says Nananne came home from Petland on antibiotics. Records bear out he contracted pneumonia and ended up in a hospital on oxygen.

Dr. Kelley, who’s practiced emergency veterinary medicine for the last 15 years, says it is not rare for puppies to come home sick from any pet store or shelter with or without a health certificate. Kelley explained the things they are exposed too and a short incubation period means they can get sick days after a solid health exam.

Earlier this month a federal judge dismissed a class action suit that accused all Petland franchises of selling sick puppies.

The owner of Petland Largo, Max Kennedy answered our questions about four of the cases in this letter.

“To begin with, the puppies come first in everything we do at Petland Largo. We are leaders in the animal care industry. And — most importantly — we are pet lovers. We love our pets. ... For our 34 years in business in Largo, Healthy pets have always been, and continue to be to this day, our number one priority. We have placed tens of thousands of healthy puppies into loving homes. It is unfortunate these customer’s puppies did fall ill. Each of these puppies did make a full recovery and are now happy and healthy. We have provided full refunds to three of the customers and are awaiting bills and records to process a refund in the other case. A statement signed by Mr. Negoshian reads “On 2/20/2017, we purchased a puppy from Petland. Petland has gone above and beyond their warranty so that we could remain satisfied with our purchase." Each of our puppies is examined by a licensed veterinarian and receives age-appropriate vaccinations. As required by the state of Florida, a veterinarian completes an Official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (OCVI) for each puppy. This form documents that the vaccinations were administered by the vet and that, at the time of the examination, there were no signs of an infectious disease or parasites. The OCVI is not a guarantee of the future health of the puppy, but rather a documentation of the health of the puppy at the time of the examination. In each of these cases, the veterinarian found no signs of an infectious disease during his thorough examination and a fecal test found no internal parasites. As you know, there is a risk of disease with any living animal including animals in the happiest and healthiest environments like ours. We work diligently to reduce risks. It is important to remember that these are 9 week old babies with immature immune systems. Those that work with puppies and kittens understand that they are babies, just like human babies, and can fall ill and those illnesses incubate with no symptoms for many days or more. Pinellas County Animal Services includes a statement with their cat adoptions that reads “From 7 days of adoption if cat should show upper respiratory symptoms (URI) please call . . .”

In another example, a customer complained to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about the SPCA, stating that they “Purchased an animal from the SPCA. Was told it was in great health. Within 48 hours animal was diagnosed w/Pneumonia”. As SPCA correctly replied, “it is not possible to diagnose potential problems that do not present while the animals are in our care.” The SPCA is a fine organization that very much cares for the animals in their care, yet they also had a case of pneumonia a few days after the dog was adopted. Unfortunately, animals can be symptom free and incubating an illness that only presents symptoms at a later date.” There were no signs that these puppies were sick when they were sold. In some of the cases, it is possible that the puppies were asymptomatic, but incubating an infection that presented symptoms after the customer took the puppy home. In these cases, we offer a warranty to provide for the care of the puppies. In other cases, the conditions were contracted after the customer took the puppy home. For example, Ms. Durham’s puppy had a fecal exam by her vet after purchase and was found to be free of internal parasites, yet you indicated in your email to me that her puppy was later diagnosed with two internal parasites (giardia and coccidia). Since her vet found no internal parasites after purchase, her puppy must have contracted these parasites after purchase. In another case, Mr. Negoshian’s puppy was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia that occurred 10 days after purchase. As you may know, “Aspiration (or inhalation) pneumonia is a condition in which a dog's lungs become inflamed due to the inhalation of foreign matter”. This happens in puppies when they ingest items they should not and when they then vomit and inhale the vomitus into the lungs.

In regards to the interaction with Ms. Durham in our store on 1/31/18, Ms. Durham was upset that her puppy had fallen ill, which we completely understand. However, she became increasingly loud and using profanity to the point that a family moved their children to back of the store to get away from her. When she refused to stop using profanity, she was asked to leave the store. A short time later a customer entered the store and complained to the cashier that they were accosted by a woman (Ms. Durham) in front of the storing yelling at them not to go in. At that point, our store manager went outside and asked Ms. Durham to stop confronting customers and to leave the property. When she refused, in our duty to safeguard our customers and employees, we placed a call to the police department for assistance. We have been in business in Pinellas County for over 34 years. Our business has been successful for this long because we take care of our puppies and our customers. It is unfortunate these customer’s puppies did fall ill. Each of these puppies did make a full recovery and are now happy and healthy.”

Before taking home any puppy, look for signs of runny nose, sneezing, coughing or lethargy and check the date of the health certificate. It expires after 30 days.

If you wind up with a sick animal you can file a case under the state's puppy lemon law — it mandates sellers refund-up to the full purchase price.

You can file a complaint at www.800helpfla.com.

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