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Pet Purchase Protection Laws in Ohio

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My name is Gia DeAscentis. Since September of 2015, following the death of a close family friend's 5-month-old miniature schnauzer that purchased from a local pet store (Harbor Pet Center), I have been on a crusade to educate and inform the public as to where pet stores such as this acquire their puppies. Below is the story of just one of Harbor Pet Center's countless victims, "Sophia": 

In June of 2015, Elise Keller purchased a $1500 Miniature Schnauzer from Harbor Pet Center (formally known as "Petland") on Market Street in Boardman, Ohio. After losing a beloved family dog of 15 years, the family heard news of a couple miniature schnauzer puppies becoming available at the store location and decided to take a look. Despite all the warnings and insinuations that Harbor Pet Center/Petland bought and sold puppy mill dogs, the family was put at ease by management's “health guarantees,” vet checks and AKC registration papers. Within minutes of falling in love, “Sophia” was purchased and immediately became a beloved and vital family member to the Keller household. The Keller family conveniently received her papers in the mail after purchasing Sophia. Her papers stated that Sophia was under “warranty” for three years, and her breeder was listed on the papers along with a USDA number, signifying that they were "approved breeders." The Keller family brought Sophia to Harbor Pet Center’s veterinarian of choice in order to satisfy the contract. The veterinarian performed an exam and said she was in perfect health. They family thought, “What could go wrong?”

Now, fast-forward to three months later when what seemed to be a simple GI upset escalated within hours to a full-fledged emergency. Sophia was rushed to an emergency clinic and died en route--in her mom's arms.

Logically, the family knew that Sophia wasn’t poisoned, as she never left their sight. The family were experienced dog owners and were well aware that puppies need close and constant supervision. Considering all that had happened so suddenly and in such a short period of time, the family felt an autopsy was in order. 5-month-old puppies aren’t supposed to drop dead. After contacting the manager, at Harbor Pet Center, the family was informed that it was doubtful they would be given a refund after an autopsy was done and said that the family would more than likely be given the option of a “replacement puppy..." but the family would have to talk to the head of the store, Gary Winslow, to see exactly what would/could be done. After watching what Sophia went through, another sick puppy was out of the question. At this point, it wasn’t about getting money back or another “replacement puppy”—this was about getting justice for Sophia, and for ALL the other families and puppies who had fallen victim to Harbor Pet Center and Petland.

It was strongly suggested by Harbor Pet Center manager that their contracted veterinarian perform the autopsy on Sophia, but the family was adamant on having an independent veterinarian do the procedure. The family’s comfort in their decision not to allow Harbor Pet Center's contracted veterinarian to perform the autopsy was solidified after discovering that the contracted vet operated in the “grey area” of medicine and had several legal judgments against him. Reluctantly, the Harbor Pet Center manager agreed.

Sophia's veterinarian concluded that she died of congenital defects likely due to her parents been inbred and overbred. At just 5 months old, all of Sophia's organs had simply shut down. She died an agonizing death.

The family tried several times to contact the main manager/owner of the store, Mr. Gary Winslow—phone calls, emails, even going into the store and demanding to talk to him. Mr. Winslow was conveniently “out of the office” or “busy” each time, never returning any of their messages. After trying to contact Mr. Winslow for an entire week, his attention was finally grabbed as we protested the store on a corner of a major street. Only now he had the time to return the grieving family’s attempts at communication. Even after being presented with the results and information, Mr. Winslow refused to acknowledge any of the facts. He refused a refund for the dog, refused to pay any of the veterinary bills, and stood by the fact that Sophia was thoroughly medically checked before being sold to the Kellers. He simply stated that the reason of her death was because, “Living things sometimes just die.” 

Following Sophia's death, I used several resources to track down the "breeders" listed on her papers. I was horrified to discover that as of August 2015, Sophia’s "breeders" had 123 dogs and 78 puppies on their premises. I was able to request access to more records and inspections as provided by the USDA. I was able to see pictures of the deplorable living conditions these dogs were forced to exist in.

I wrote several letters to the local papers and took part in/organized several rallies against the store, urging people to come forward with their stories. This triggered a response of a magnitude I never could have imagined. People, including former employees, people who had purchased dogs from the store, and concerned citizens, were coming out of the woodwork to tell Harbor Pet Center horror stories. They provided me with the papers the received with their dogs, and I was able to track down several of the "breeders." Other "breeders" were extremely difficult to find, due to the fact that they were unregulated, unlicensed (but PERFECTLY LEGAL) Amish puppy farms.

I knew that making all of the information I was finding available to the public was a vital step in exposing the store and educating the public on the origin of pet store puppies. I recently started a Facebook group, Youngstown Area Puppy Mill Awareness (YAPMA).

https://www.facebook.com/YoungstownAreaPMA

Recently, the business has found itself under new management, but has seemingly done nothing to adjust the standards under which it operates. There still puppies being sold that are deathly ill, and even dying within days of purchase. There has been at LEAST one person a week contacting me, searching and pleading for some sort of guidance, assistance, or closure regarding their sick or deceased dogs--because the STORE WILL NOT. 

Recently, I had been contacted by an individual whose puppy had died 6 days after purchase. There was no information on the papers letting the owner know where the puppy came from. I asked her to contact the store and request the breeder information, and she reported that they claimed to had either had no information available, or they have misplaced the information. What kind of responsible, credible business doesn't keep track of records, IMPORTANT records, such as this? Harbor Pet Center prides itself on the fact they get their puppies from "breeders" that are "handpicked" by their owner. If they don't disclose this vital information that would disprove their claims, there is nothing more we can do to prove where these puppies are coming from. That's it. They are not required by law to disclose the information they have, and they won't--because what business would want to admit THESE are the places they acquire their puppies?

There are NO disclosure laws that require pet stores in Ohio tell you where they acquire the puppies they sell in pet stores. I'd have to assume once pet store owners in businesses such as Harbor Pet Center and Ohio Puppy catch on to the fact that we are able to take the little information they DO provide us and track these "breeders" down, they will simply STOP LISTING THE BREEDER INFORMATION ON THE PAPERS. They will tell you they don't have the records of where the puppies came from, or that they lost the records of where the puppies came from.

Additionally, there are NO "lemon laws" in Ohio that provide legal recourse to people who purchase animals from pet dealers, later found to have a disease or defect. There are 21 states that have some sort of pet purchase protection, or "lemon laws," in effect and Ohio is not once of them. 

According to the ASPCA,"The highest concentration of puppy mills is in the Midwest, specifically in Missouri, but there are also high concentrations in other areas, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and upstate New York. Commercial dog breeding is very prevalent among Amish and Mennonite farmers. There are typically between 2,000 and 3,000 USDA-licensed breeders (commonly referred to as puppy mills) operating in the United States. This number does not take into consideration the number of breeders not required to be licensed by the USDA or the number of breeders operating illegally without a license. Because so many of these breeders are operating without oversight, it's impossible to accurately track them or to know how many there truly are. The ASPCA estimates that there could be as many as 10,000 puppy mills across the nation.

The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), passed in 1966, requires breeders who have more than three breeding female dogs and sell puppies to pet stores or puppy brokers to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In most cases, the standards that breeders are required to meet by law are extremely minimal. Under the AWA, it is legal to keep a dog in a cage only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, with a wire floor, stacked on top of another cage, for the dog's entire life. Conditions that most people would consider inhumane, or even cruel, are often legal.

With the evolution of Internet commerce, puppy mills have sprouted up all over the world to provide poorly bred puppies of every imaginable breed directly to the consumer. As a result, the U.S. market has seen an increase in imported dogs in bad health and/or possibly carrying diseases that could harm people and other animals. Because foreign puppy mills are not subject to U.S. regulations—such as the standards set forth in the AWA—it is likely that many of these dogs are bred and raised in extremely inhumane conditions.

An amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill prohibits the importation of puppies less than six months of age for the purpose of resale. In August 2014, the USDA adopted regulations implementing the law at national ports of entry.

More than half of U.S. states have chosen to legislate higher standards of care for commercially bred animals beyond the bare minimums required by the AWA. Unfortunately, 21 states have no laws on the books regulating commercial dog breeders—and a number of states that do require breeders to be licensed and inspected by the state only require commercial breeders to meet USDA standards of care."

I am urging Ohio to become one of those 21 states; to take the first step in the right direction. This is first of many steps in a long journey towards banning the sale of puppies in pet stores. If we can require Ohio pet stores to disclose truthful information, we will be able to gather and provide more and more evidence as to where they are acquiring their puppies and hopefully take further action. 

Furthermore, I also urge any individuals who have purchased puppies (especially, but not limited to, sick and deceased puppies) from Harbor Pet Center or Ohio Puppy in Youngstown, OH to contact me with the breeder information listed on the papers so that it can be added to our database of "breeders." Words can't express how important this is! The more evidence we have, the stronger our case will be. You can e-mail the following information to giadeascentis@yahoo.com

Breeder's first & last name listed on the papers
Breeder's address listed on the papers
Breeder's USDA# (If any) listed on the papers
Distributor (if any) listed on the papers

 

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