San Diego

Accusations of Puppies Living in Inhumane Conditions at Some Pet Stores in San Diego

State legislation would prohibit pet stores from selling dogs, cats or rabbits unless the animal was obtained from a shelter or rescue group.

Two cities in San Diego County with pet stores selling dogs, cats or rabbits do not have ordinances prohibiting the retail sale of animals from commercial breeders and some stores in those cities are facing allegations of inhumane conditions inside their stores.

The stores are located in Escondido and National City. In one store, NBC 7 Investigates found between 20 to 30 puppies living in small cages.

"20 puppies were being treated for minor to moderate medical conditions. And six of that were told to me by staff, that were in critical condition," National City Animal Control Officer, Jane Gordon explained during a 2016 National City City Council meeting, after inspecting National City Puppy.

According to Gordon, there were 86 puppies and three kittens on in the store that day. 

"I'm a little concerned. Some of the large breed puppies...there were about three to four to a cage," she told the council.

National City Puppy was never cited by the National City and its owner told NBC 7 Investigates, a veterinarian checks all its puppies and it seeks medical treatment for any that are sick.

At the 2016 meeting, Gordon continued describing the questionable practices some stores go through to receive the dogs. She explained they're usually from the Midwest. They go from a breeder to a kennel, to the broker and then to the pet store.

"Reputable breeders never, ever sell to a pet store," said animal rights activist, Andrea Cunningham. "They won't sell to someone sight unseen. They want to meet you and for you to meet them and see where the dog will be raised."

Cunningham leads "Not One Animal Harmed," an animal advocacy group. She told NBC 7 Investigates, conditions like this have raised concerns for a number of cities across the county causing several to pass ordinances banning pet stores, except for two cities with stores: National City and Escondido.

David Salinas owns shops in both cities: Broadway Puppies in Escondido and National City Puppy.

NBC 7 Investigates spoke to Salinas over the phone. He wouldn't disclose where his puppies come from.

"Not for this interview but we can certainly for our customers who come into the store," Salinas said.

He added his stores display the puppies' breeder and basic information in plain sight, something that is not required by law.

When NBC 7 Investigates visited Broadway Puppies, nearly 20 puppies, on display in the store had no breeder information.

"I'm sure you just got us at a time where the puppies were just being put in or being moved around," Salinas said.

Rio Quinn and her husband told NBC 7 Investigates, they remember the moment they first saw Vizsla puppy, Scooter, inside a cage at another store, Carlsbad Pets.

"He was coughing, it was horrible, absolutely horrible," Quinn said. "I couldn't just leave him there. So we went in and bought him."

After visits to two different veterinarians, Scooter was diagnosed with kennel cough, severe pneumonia, and tested positive for distemper, a viral disease preventable with a vaccine.

"It was all absolutely horrible and he ended up living not even 30 days with us and he was hospitalized for almost two weeks of that," Quinn added.

The couple was forced to give Scooter to a Vizsla rescue who determined his illnesses were too severe.  He had to be euthanized.

"There was nothing they could do," Quinn explained. "His lungs were failing. He needed about $26,000 of care." 

Their beloved puppy was gone.

"Scooter came from a puppy mill in Iowa with over 300 dogs on the premises at the time of their last known USDA inspection," said Cunningham.

According to Cunningham, Scooter was marketed as a puppy from a home based breeder. 

"I don't know about you, but I can't fit 300 dogs in my house," she added. "Can you?"

Quinn sued Carlsbad Pets after Scooter's death in order to get the money she spent on the puppy back. A judge ruled in her favor, requiring the pet store to pay Quinn more than $3,000. She is still waiting for the complete payment.

Last year, the City of Carlsbad voted to ban the retail sale of dogs and cats from commercial breeders, causing Carlsbad Pets to close.

In National City, after hearing animal control officer Gordon's findings, the council voted against a similar ordinance. In Escondido, no ordinance has been proposed, despite some community members pushing for one.

NBC 7 Investigates found documents showing $3,000 worth of campaign contributions by Salinas to Escondido Councilmember Mike Morasco.

Salinas told NBC 7 Investigates his reasoning behind the payments is simple.

"We have no problem supporting any candidate that supports us. And not just Morasco or any other city council member," Salinas said.

Councilmember Morasco told NBC 7 Investigates he feels an ordinance regulating pet stores isn't a local legislative issue, it's a state or federal one. 

Meantime, Salinas and another store, Escondido Pets told NBC 7 Investigates they are working with lobbyists in Sacramento to try to stop legislation, AB 485, that would prohibit pet store owners from selling dogs, cats, or rabbits in a pet store unless they come from a shelter. 

"We're a puppy store; we're not a pet product store," Salinas said. "When you take away the rights to sell puppies, kittens and rabbits for the retail sale to the consumer, then that puts us out of business."

The bill is currently on the Assembly floor and will need to be voted on by June 2, or it will have to be reintroduced next year.

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