MILWAUKEE -- Complaints of sick and dying dogs at a local pet store prompted FOX6's Contact 6 to launch an investigation that took the team from Milwaukee to Iowa!
A few printouts is all Terri Warner has left to remember her pound-and-a-half chihuahua/poodle mix named Lucy. Lucy suffered two seizures in the first week Warner had her home, and veterinarians recommended Warner put Lucy down. "I've never seen a poor dog go through anything like that, and it affected me hard," Warner said.
Jamie Corona owns a 200 pound mastiff named Zeus, and a tiny shih-tzu named Marley. Marley's esophagus occasionally closes up - causing him to stop breathing, and Zeus has a skin allergy, causing his fur to come out in clumps. "I mean, obviously, when you get a dog, there's going to be vet bills, but to have a poor thing that's sick when you get them is just beyond anything," Corona said.
Both Warner and Corona bought their dogs from Puppy World - a pet shop near 27th and Layton. Both blame the store for their pets' health problems, and wrote a complaint to Contact 6, along with seven other families, dating back to 2005. Each claim their Puppy World pet had issues, and all say they had to pay hundreds in medical bills.
A was lawsuit filed by a Milwaukee County couple against Puppy World and an Iowa breeder called "New Horizon Puppies." The couple claims Puppy World knowingly worked with what the suit calls a "puppy mill" in Lake Mills, Iowa. Puppy World has repeatedly said it does not work with puppy mills, and New Horizon has filed a countersuit for defamation. Contact 6 decided to check it out for themselves.
350 miles east at a home in rural Iowa, you can't actually see the dogs, but you can hear them barking from behind a fence. Owner Annette Capaul came outside when Contact 6 Producer Josh Quinn showed up. Capaul first referred Contact 6 to her lawyer, and then defended herself and her business. "Puppy mill is a horrible word. There's a lot of places out there that are, but we do not run a puppy mill. We take in dogs that need homes. We are not a puppy mill. I love every single one of my dogs. We don't do this for money - we do this because we love the dogs," Capaul said.
Eilene Ribbens is the vice-president of the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, and runs her own website (NoWisconsinPuppyMills.org). She's also a major proponent of what's known as Act 90, the new so-called "puppy mill law" in Wisconsin that sets strict standards for housing, feeding, watering and exercise in regulated facilities. This will help ensure dogs sold in Wisconsin are coming from quality environments, that they're properly socialized and perhaps most importantly, they're healthy. The law doesn't apply to out-of-state breeders like New Horizon that send dogs into Wisconsin. When she learned the latest USDA inspection report listed close to 160 dogs at the Iowa facility, Ribbens came to a singular conclusion. "That is a profit-driven enterprise, whether you call it a puppy mill or not. It is for the money. Why else would someone have over 100 dogs?" Ribbens said.
Contact 6 then went to see the owner of Puppy World, Sheryl Janas. An employee told FOX6 Janas wasn't in, and their attorney told her to say "no comment." Contact 6 couldn't reach Janas by phone or at her home. After multiple calls and emails to Janas and her attorney, Contact 6 got a letter from her lawyer, saying he got the messages and wants to read each of the complaints before commenting. Contact 6's records show Janas already read and answered many of these complaints over the years.
Warner and Corona say they don't plan to take legal action themselves, and just want to move on and do what dogs tend to do - live in the moment.
Attorneys tell Contact 6 Puppy World is in the process of settling the lawsuit against the company.