It is that time of year again — when many children, full of romanticized ideas, are quick to place a puppy at the top of their wish list from Santa and parents are popping in and out of puppy stores, seeking the perfect one.
Though it was not in preparation for Santa, my sister and I wandered in to Fur de Leash in St. George, just as naive and unsuspecting in regards to the realities of puppy stores as are so many well-intentioned parents.
My sister wasn’t expecting to be so taken with that fluff ball at the store. But she felt a special bond with this Wheaten Terrier, Benny. She asked owner Hayley Gardner if she could take the little pup out of the glass cage to the back of the store, to get to know him more.
It was not long before Gardner began hanging around the back with us, talking Benny up, and ensuring my sister it would be an extremely easeful experience in taking care of this puppy. My sister was direct about explaining that her schedule and life are such that she would not be able to care for all his needs should he end up ill. Among other empty assurances, Gardner assured that she didn’t need to worry about his care — that, rather, “he will take care of you.”
This could not have been further from the truth. The very first night with Benny, he had excessive diarrhea. Soon after, my sister discovered blood in his feces, and the day after that, there were increasing amounts of blood. She took him to the vet and was told that his documents revealed that his shots were administered too early. Thus, she feared the puppy could have contracted parvovirus. His test came back negative, leaving his health problems a mystery. At the same time, he began exhibiting behavioral problems, particularly anxiety that prevented her from being able to leave his side for any time at all. His behavioral and physical problems became so consuming that she went to PAWS, a volunteer animal rescue organization, to ask for their advice.
It was here that she discovered that, should she decide that she needed to turn him over to PAWS for rehabilitation and home placement, he would be the second dog from Fur de Leash brought to them. According to the Humane Society of the U.S., the Jack Russell Terrier puppy already turned over to them came from a puppy mill. Thus, it was quite possible that her pup, too, came from a puppy mill.
A puppy mill is a large-scale breeding site that places profit before animal well-being, where dogs are forced to mass-produce, which often entails severe neglect and abuse due to too many dogs kept in one place.
The fact that two known Fur de Leash buyers have gone to PAWS for support is cause for concern, especially given that the puppy store has not yet been open for even a full year. Of further concern is the fact that the store’s opening was on shaky grounds to begin with. Owner Hayley Gardner is both the daughter and previous employee of Charles Gardner, owner of Pet Pros — a store that was closed earlier this year for failure to renew their license in addition to disturbing signs of irresponsible care, such as “dirty cages, sick puppies, and overcrowding,” according to News Channel 3 of Las Vegas. On Jan. 15, the Henderson, NV store was ordered closed and was denied the appeal for its reopening in February. Fur de Leash then opened in St. George around that same time in early February.
I felt the red flags much sooner than the physical manifestation of Benny’s health challenges, and told my father that I felt Hayley Gardner was being emotionally manipulative in her business practices in seeing a customer’s deep connection with a dog and using it against them. In response to my sister’s decision to wait to bring a new companion into her life until she could consult with our mother, Hayley Gardner pushed, “Well, [the puppy] won’t wait for mom.” She continued pressuring uncomfortably until we left the store.
We came to find out that, indeed, there is far too intimate a relationship between puppy mills and puppy stores for consumers to be able to trust where their puppy is coming from. Researching Benny’s breeders, Harry and Wanda Bonham, revealed that he, too, came from a facility listed for multiple violations by the ASPCA and in their USDA report.
Animal Rescue Corps of Washington, D.C. states that puppy mills are “supplying nearly 100 percent of dogs sold in pet stores.” For individuals who purchase these puppies, this can mean a lack of preparation to meet the physical and psychological demands of a dog bred in a traumatic environment. The issue has gained enough weight that cities are even outlawing the buying and selling of puppies in commercial pet stores unless they come from local shelters. The ASPCA reports that “Nearly 90 localities have banned the sale of commercially-bred dogs in pet stores,” protecting not only pets, but also consumers. Just this past October, with a city council vote of 6–1, Salt Lake County was added to this list. Local activists are now at work in hopes that St. George’s City Council might require the same of Fur de Leash and other local pet stores or have them closed for inhumane business practices.
Fur de Leash is already marketing to those unsuspecting customers.
“HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” they write. “We have a beautiful selection of puppies to pick from that would love to go home for the holidays.”
So this holiday season, if you happen to be searching for a furry companion, ask yourself the deeper questions before you purchase. The puppy stores aren’t going to do it for you.