A large number of pet stores in New York routinely purchase animals from puppy mills where dogs are kept in cruel confinement for commercial purposes, an NBC New York investigation has found.
An examination by the Humane Society of the United States of more than 100 pet stores in New York found nearly all of them bought dogs from puppy mills.
When NBC New York compared those shipping records to inspection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees commercial breeders, the records showed many stores were buying puppies from facilities in the Midwest that had USDA violations.
“There are plenty of wonderful pets that come from puppy stores," said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus of the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. The problem, she said, is not necessarily the pet stores, but weak government oversight from the USDA.
She said one of the biggest issues with puppy mills is the animals' lack of real social interaction with people and other dogs – something she said needs to happen in the first 14 weeks or so of a puppy’s life in order to curb further behavior issues.
“The number one cause of relinquishment of bad pets to animal shelters is bad behavior,” said Hohenhaus.
NBC New York went undercover in local pet stores to ask about the origin of the dogs. Many store owners and salespeople pointed to their breeders' credentials.
“We have an impeccable reputation because of the sources where we get our dogs from,” said a salesman from Yippity Yap in Huntington. “All we deal with in general is USDA-licensed, USDA-inspected or AKC-inspected breeders.”
But all commercial breeders are USDA licensed and inspected – even what the Humane Society considers puppy mills.
“The breeders themselves treat these animals as livestock," said a Humane Society investigator. "Even worse, in my opinion."
“We have the proof. We have the evidence. We have the shipping documents. We have photographs and video of a lot of these places,” said the investigator. She told NBC New York that because USDA standards are low, many commercial breeders remain in operation.
The salesman for Yippity Yap told NBC New York – on hidden camera – that one dog in particular came from Cheney Blue Ribbon Kennels in Missouri, owned by Brandi Cheney.
The Humane Society considers that facility one of the worst in the country.
“I would say absolutely she is a chronic offender," said the investigator. "Still, after all these years, she can’t figure out what it takes to properly house dogs."
Cheney told NBC New York over the phone that the stack of violations against her is misleading because some were mistakenly assessed to her.
She did acknowledge that she was cited this year by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA for violations involving shelter conditions, veterinary care and exercise for dogs. Cheney told NBC New York that all the violations were immediately corrected and she has nothing to hide.
“What they’re saying about my facility is inaccurate,” said Cheney. "We take very good care of our animals. My animals live better than I do."
The management of Yippity Yap told NBC New York in a statement that it seeks "to deal only with breeders who are reputable and who treat animals humanely, which policy is borne out by the excellent health record we have had with the pets we have sold."
"To that end, the pet warranty that we offer to our customers, which relates to an animal's health, exceeds that mandated by New York State law," the statement said. "If the allegations against this one dealer are determined to be true, we join in the chorus of concerned citizens and officials who condemn these acts or omissions and who call for greater policing of breeders so that everyone can be assured that all animals, regardless of origin, are raised in a humane environment.”
At Raising Rover and Baby on the Upper East Side, one employee told NBC New York, “We don’t deal with puppy mills. We don’t."
But the Humane Society said its records prove otherwise: there were shipments from Cheney to Raising Rover and Baby, as well as shipments from a Kansas breeder with more than 200 dogs on their property.
“It doesn’t matter what neighborhood it’s in," said the investigator. "Upscale Manhattan neighborhoods and everywhere else: They are all buying from puppy mills."
The owner of Raising Rover told NBC New York that it “has been under new ownership since the middle of June, and these purchases were made prior to us taking ownership of the store. We have not purchased any dogs from Brandi Cheney since we assumed ownership and will not do so in the future.”