St. George area pet store accused of selling sick puppies, draws protesters

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY — A pet shop with stores in Washington City and St. George is being accused of selling sick and injured dogs, an accusation the store manager denies. 

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

St. George News has heard from several readers over the last year who accuse the Puppy House stores with knowingly selling customers sick and injured animals, euthanizing animals using false owner names, keeping animals in cramped conditions for months and overcharging customers. They also say the store acquires pets by posing as private residents, rather than a store, or via so-called “puppy mills” that are places where dogs are continuously bred in inhumane and unsanitary conditions.

Representatives for the Puppy House deny the allegations, saying the store has stringent standards for cleanliness and ensuring that the puppies in the store are healthy.

A group of residents organized a demonstration that took place in front of the Washington City store on Saturday. About 75 to 100 protesters lined Green Spring Drive and Red Cliffs Drive surrounding Albertsons shipping complex that included the Puppy House store. 

The chants of the demonstrators about 50 yards away could be heard as customers were entering the pet store. 

Front signage for the Puppy House store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 12, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The group created a Facebook group earlier in the week after one resident came forward with pictures and a story of a puppy they said they purchased from Puppy House. 

Malea Gibson said the dog she purchased has a leg deformity that will require $10,000 to repair. She said it was left in a glass enclosure for two months.

“I didn’t see her legs because they wouldn’t let me put her on the ground. So I didn’t notice there was anything wrong with her until I got her home,” Gibson said. “It just makes me sick. They’re OK with just scamming people.”

The private Facebook group, called “Take a Stand Against Puppy House” started on Tuesday and as of Saturday morning had grown to 803 members. A petition on put up this week to have the Puppy House shut down has 1,860 signatures as of Saturday morning.

Photo of the legs of the puppy Malea Gibson said she purchased from Puppy House with deformities, undisclosed location, November 2021 | Photo courtesy of Malea Gibson, St. George News

St. George News first received tips about the store, which has received an “F” grade from the Better Business Bureau, selling sick pets in November 2019 and has now spoken or received statements from six other pet owners who said they purchased their pets from Puppy House and have similar stories of pets that proved to be sick or injured after purchase as well as excessive financing charges for the pets as well as unwillingness of the store to help with any of the animals’ ailments. 

St. George News has also spoken with former employees of the stores who corroborate the stories and detail what they say are unethical practices at the store. 

In the wake of Gibson’s story being passed around social media, a private Facebook group, called “Take a Stand Against Puppy House” started on Tuesday and as of Saturday morning had grown to 803 members. A petition on demanding that Puppy House shut down has 1,860 signatures.

Andrea Ramirez, a current manager for the Puppy House, told St. George News it is untrue that the stores are knowingly selling sick or deformed pets. She said that the puppies at the store are well-cared for and come from breeders certified and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Front of the Puppy House store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 12, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“We take excellent care of our puppies. I mean, we have very high standards for when our puppies come in. If they’re not met in our standards at all, they’re given back to the breeder,” Ramirez said. “We do daily checks on our puppies twice a day, sometimes three times a day, to make sure that they don’t have a fever, that they’re eating correctly. We check them from head to toe.”

Ramirez said all of the pets sold have their papers and also denied the animals are kept in cramped conditions. Ramirez would not allow St. George News to see the paperwork or see how the animals are kept in the store.

The owners of both Puppy House stores, Andrea Estevez and Chris Chavez, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. However, St. George News did receive a email statement saying it represented Puppy House. The statement reiterated that they have thorough checks to determine if an animal is ill. 

Statement provided by Puppy House to St. George News, Nov. 12, 2021 | Photo courtesy Puppy House, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“As a family business, and as people who love pets, we are deeply troubled by the false allegations made against us. The puppies in our care are both our livelihood and our passion, and we will continue our work to help St. George families meet and love their pets,” the statement reads. 

“When a puppy from our store becomes ill, we move swiftly to obtain care from our local veterinarian. If that puppy has already gone home with a customer, we honor our guarantees and refund when needed. Over the past six years we have been in business, our average claims of illness and returns are less than 1% of sales, due to our comprehensive care practices.”

When St. George News asked the sender if the name of the local veterinarian could be named or contact could be made, it received no response. 

‘She was just tired’

Gibson said that she had often gone by the Puppy House while waiting for pizza from the nearby Little Caesars. For two months, she said she saw the same dog in a glass enclosure. She said seeing the dog over and over again “broke her heart.” Gibson said another lady visiting the store told her she also often visited it just to keep the dog company. 

“She was lethargic and just laying there. It kept me up all night,” Gibson said. “The next morning I decided I had to get her out of there. While there I asked many times about her health and records, they kept assuring me she was healthy,” Gibson said, noting again that the store didn’t allow her to see the dog walk around. 

Photo Malea Gibson said she took inside the Washington City Puppy House of the puppy she ended up purchasing, Washington City, November 2021 | Photo courtesy of Malea Gibson, St. George News

“She was also told by a store employee about the puppy that ‘she was just tired, it was that time of the day.’”

The store manager, Ramirez, wouldn’t answer specifics about Gibson’s pet but denied that puppies are kept for long durations in the store.

“They’re not here for more than a week or two weeks,” Ramirez said. “Because we have such a good reputation here in St. George, that is in no way true.”

The store wanted $3,800 for the puppy, but Gibson said she was able to “talk them down” to $2,500 after showing proof that another store was selling the same breed for $1,500. 

“I know she’s not worth as much as that, but it was worth it to me. We’d get her out of there because I could just tell she was in a terrible situation,” she said.

Gibson said when she brought the dog home, she didn’t see the typical jumping and playing around of a puppy. 

“She was having a hard time standing up and even walking, she’s kind of tipping over,” Gibson said. 

She took the dog to the veterinarian that day, and consulted with another retired vet, who indicated that the puppy had been made immobile for at least eight weeks. Gibson was told it will cost $5,000 per leg to repair the damage. Documentation from the animal doctor indicates that the puppy “shows significant angular deformities of the hindlimbs.”

Report by a veterinarian of the puppy Malea Gibson said she purchased from the Washington City Puppy House | Photo courtesy of Malea Gibson, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“He just confirmed that yes, she did have some deformities,” Gibson said. “(The other veterinarian) said, ‘You know, it just doesn’t really feel like there’s anything genetically wrong with her … she hasn’t had any exercise in the last two months.’”

Gibson took the puppy back to the Puppy House and asked for a refund, mentioning the cost of the corrective surgery.

“They smugly looked at her and said ‘she looks fine’ and ‘why didn’t they do an X-ray?’ I said it is clear as day her hind legs are not correct. I told them I wouldn’t leave without some sort of refund so they called the cops and had me trespassed from the store,” Gibson said. “To pay that much for a dog, that’s going to need extra care and therapy. I just felt like it was not ethical.”

Gibson said she has since received an e-mail from Puppy House saying they will refund her in full if she returns the dog to them. Gibson said she’s already invested time and money into the dogs recovery and said she is also concerned about how the dog would be treated if she did return it. 

“We actually love and care about her. She’s not just a defective microwave.” 

St. George News spoke with Katy Baal, previously the manager and lead vet tech for Puppy House. Baal said she had two months of training before she became lead vet tech.

She said puppies stay in the store in the glass enclosures or in kennels in the back until they get sold.

“If a puppy is less desirable, it stays there as long as it needs,” Baal said. “There are multiple puppies that have stayed there for months or longer.”

Puppies eating towels

One former employee, Anna Telford, was hired to be a vet tech at the store though she said she had never actually had any veterinary training.

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Telford said if a dog is determined to be sick, they are placed in a kennel in the back behind the area open to the public. Telford supplied video to St. George News that appears to show two puppies in one small cage and another with a puppy that has little room in its cage and is also walking on its own feces. 

“We give them food and water and they get no exercise whatsoever,” Telford said. 

Baal said the store at one point had several puppies with kennel cough, a highly contagious canine respiratory disease, according to the American Kennel Club.

“When a puppy gets kennel cough, you have to separate them from the rest of the puppies. But they would take it to extremes,” Baal said. “They would take the puppies in the back and keep them in kennels and they would cover those kennels with towels.”

Baal said a Rottweiler puppy and a Shiba Inu puppy was kept in the kennels in the back for a month with a towel over their cages blocking out most light.

“The Shiba Inu puppy even ate a little square of his towel just so he could see out of the kennel because he wanted to be around people,” Baal said. “The Rottweiler puppy was so bored he would eat his own poop. So his entire kennel would smell like feces because he would eat it and breathe out poop.”

Baal added that when the Shiba Inu was allowed on the floor again, the dog would shy away from human touch.

Ramirez confirmed there were kennels in the private area of the store, but said the dogs are only put in there temporarily for the most part while they are being bathed.

“There’s plenty of room for them,” Ramirez said. “They are not kept in cages for any time.”

Puppies with parvo

According to the American Kennel Club, Parvo is caused by a highly contagious virus that strikes the digestive system of young dogs. At the least, it can cause vomiting, fever and diarrhea. It can also be fatal. 

Andrea Ramirez, manager at the Puppy House store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 12, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While there is no cure for parvo, it is about 83% survivable after four days with treatment. But those treatments can be $1,000 each day. 

Ramirez said there are no parvo outbreaks at Puppy House.

“We keep up on vaccinations. We keep up on deworming. We keep up with all of that. There’s no parvo here,” Ramirez said.

St. George News has spoken with several people who say they purchased a puppy from Puppy House that was later determined to be sick with parvo. It was also learned that in one week alone, a local veterinarian had to euthanize four puppies from the Puppy House with parvo. 

Ramirez said the dogs acquired the disease after they were sold. 

“If it did particularly come from us, we of course would work with the customer and try and resolve that issue, but there is a timeframe when parvo is the most infectious,” Ramirez said. “Once the puppies leave our store, then we don’t know what, where the puppy has been. Parvo is very, very highly contagious. It’s contagious everywhere. But we would absolutely work with them. Absolutely.”

Joan Williams said she and her daughter bought a Yorkshire terrier puppy from the store.

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“We both fell in love with the puppy but by day two, I told her the puppy was very sick and she needed to take her back to the store,” Williams said. “They would not do anything about it so she took her to the vet and he said she had parvo. The puppy died two days later. When I posted our experience with them on Facebook, the owners and employees started calling me a liar, a trouble maker and a bigot.”

Telford said that she was assigned to do several parvo tests when she was an employee, but was told to not disclose if the test came back positive.

“They told me, if a dog did have Parvo, we couldn’t track it in our app,” Telford said. “We were not allowed to put in the record if a dog had parvo because it was “bad energy and bad vibes.”

A little more than a week after taking a job at Puppy House, Telford said her final straw was when a family was calling the store with a poodle they had just purchased for $6,000, saying it had pneumonia. Telford said the store’s owners then blocked the customers’ number, so they came into the store itself.

“It was this little Frenchie and its eyes were bulging out of its head. They said they were paying $1,000 per day to have a vet treat it,” Telford said. “They told the family they had taken the dog to a vet (while still in the store) and there was no problem, but the family went to that vet who told them there was no record of the dog. This girl was holding the dog saying, ‘Lola is going to die.’”

Telford said at that moment, she decided to quit because of the pain she said she felt for the family.

“Their whole business is focused around money. There’s a 100% health guarantee but they can’t own up to one,” Telford said. 

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Araceli Gutierrez said she had a similar experience after buying a puppy as a service dog for her mom last year. When the puppy was immediately acting ill after coming home, she said the store said the puppy may have kennel cough and if it got worse to bring her back.

And then the dog had trouble breathing. 

“We took her to the emergency room since no vet would take her in. Our dog wasn’t even moving around,” Gutierrez said. “When the vet checked her, he told us that she had pneumonia, and that if she wasn’t sedated and kept overnight, she would die.

Gutierrez said her family spent $2,000 to care for the puppy. When she asked the store to help pay the bill, she said they refused. 

Euthanizing puppies anonymously

Multiple former workers said the store would have puppies euthanized with parvo or other sickness. However, they said employees were directed to not have it done in the store’s name. Baal said she was told by the owners to pose as their sister.

“The Puppy House did not want it to be linked to them so they told us it was our responsibility,” Baal said. “We had to treat the puppy like it was our own so we had to name them and take them in under my own name. We then would do a drop off where we would fill out a paper, a employee of the vets office would come out and take the puppy inside and that was that.”

Steep financial costs

Residents who purchased animals from Puppy House also criticized the store’s business and financial practices, saying payment plans end up having between 75% and 120% interest..

Paige Andra, 19, said she was convinced by the store that she would be able to afford an Australian shepherd. It would just be monthly “easy pay” payments of $80. She went ahead and signed the contract.

The first payment was for $80, but the next was for $250. She was then told she owed interest to another company called Credova and ultimately owed $9,500 for the dog she was told would cost $4,000.

I’m stuck with a $9,500 payment for a dog. I am 19 years old trying to pay my car, bills, gas, and I’m supposed to pay this company $5,500 in interest,” Andra said. “I know it’s my fault in this for signing this but I’m young and haven’t signed many contracts and wouldn’t think this would happen to me.”

Kaitlin Scrow said that she and her husband were on a date and just wanted a peek at the Puppy House puppies, not intending to actually buy one. Scrow said a store worker asked her if she wanted to hold a Shih Tzu and then asked her if she wanted to see if she could qualify to own it. 

“When I was done signing, the girl said in the happiest voice she gave, ‘congratulations, you own a puppy.’ My husband and I looked at each other in fear and shock, then looked at the girl and said, ‘we didn’t want to buy the puppy, we were only checking to see if we qualified.’

Scrow said the salesperson said they could still hang on to the puppy for 24 hours ad then bring it back. The next day, she said they were told there was never any such agreement. They now owe $8,000 for the puppy.

“What we ended up doing was getting a loan of $5,000 dollars and paying off what we owed to Credova, so we wouldn’t pay so much in the end,” Scrow said. “To this day, we are still trying to pay off the loan we got.” 

Where the dogs come from

Hurricane resident Andrea Kaz has been a local advocate against pet stores using animals from breeding farms that have been called “puppy mills.” She says the Puppy House gets its animals from breeding farms in the Midwest where male and female dogs are kept for their entire life in small cages with the sole purpose of making puppies. Such breeders have received violations from the USDA for spreading disease and other unsanitary conditions.

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Ramirez denied that they receive their animals from breeders with unhealthy conditions. 

“They’re not puppy mills. They are breeders that have all been in the business for a very long time,” Ramirez said. “They’re all USDA certified breeders.”

Ramirez said most of their animals have come from breeders in Missouri, but would not allow St. George News to see a list of the sources of the animals that come into Puppy House. 

St. George News was able to obtain a partial list of breeders Puppy House had received animals from. Of those on the list, most were found to have USDA certification and many had also been inspected in the last year. While some had “teachable moments” listed, none of the breeders on the list were found to be in violation.

A list of some of the breeders used by Puppy House obtained by St. George News, November 2021 | St. George News | Click to enlarge

A former worker said Puppy House mainly receives their animals from Pinnacle Pet, a dog broker in Missouri. Pinnacle has been criticized by the Humane Society of the United States for, among other things, not providing care to sick animals and causing the death of puppies in overheated transport vehicles. 

Missouri has the most breeders – 21 – listed in the Humane Society of the United States’ “Horrible Hundred” list of dog breeders found to have the most USDA violations. It was the ninth-straight year Missouri topped the list.

Looking for legislative action

Kaz said she is not trying to close down the Puppy House or other pet stores, but wants to see them get the puppies they sell through more humane means.

“There’s no lack of puppies and shelters and rescues across the country,” Kaz said. “There’s no lack of dogs available to adopt.”

Illinois recently passed a law requiring pet stores to sell dogs acquired through rescues or animal shelters.

A similar law was introduced in the Utah Legislature in the main 2021 session. However, Pet Store Amendments, HB420, never advanced beyond committee. 

Protesters demonstrate against the Puppy House pet store, Washington City, Utah, Nov. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Kaz also tried to lobby for a similar law in Hurricane, but it was rejected by the Hurricane City Council. But she said she’s not giving up on having such a shelter-only law for local pet stores.

“These are living animals. These are animals that people have an emotional attachment to,” Kaz said. “These are animals that children see as their buddy, their confidant, their friends. And you’re telling us that we should let children think of animals as a disposable item that you can just trade in when it’s not the right fit.”

Kaz and members of the Facebook group have reached out to St. George Mayor Michelle Randall for help. Randall said she has referred the matter to Captain Curtis Spragg, who heads the St. George Police Department’s Special Enforcement Division, but said to group members that she can’t otherwise unilaterally close a store down. 

“I’d rather not comment until we’ve had time to investigate some of the complaints,” Randall told St. George News. 

Spragg did not respond to a request for comment.

Ramirez said those protesting the store have an agenda.

“You know, they’re probably animal activists. They have their opinions on things. We’re in the business so we kind of expect that,” Ramirez said, who adds the store isn’t just out to make a buck. “I respond very personally to that because we do make sure that our puppies are very well taken care of here. There’s no doubt about that.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!