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N4T Investigators: “Puppy mill” bill sparks controversy

TUCSON –  There are thousands of homeless dogs at rescues and shelters, but many buyers only want purebred puppies, which are more often found in pet stores and at breeders facilities.

A bill under consideration by state lawmakers would allow cities to decide how pet stores get their animals. Localities would be able to ban stores from selling pets from breeders and brokers. Only pets from rescues and shelters would be allowed.

“You can pick what kind of car you drive. Why shouldn’t you be able to pick what kind of puppy you own?,” Animal Kingdom spokesperson Linda Nofer told the News 4 Tucson Investigator. Nofer and other pet store representative and breeders believe the bill would be government intrusion.  Nofer says a ban could put Animal Kingdom out of business, driving buyers to shady, or non-existent breeders websites. She said, “If they want to buy a German Shepherd, where are they going to go? Online. You might get that dog, and it might die two days later.”

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have reported on websites set up by scammers, that are made to look like they are real breeders. The sites use stock photos of adorable puppies. One Pima County woman told us she spent thousands of dollars to a scammer posing as a breeder, for a puppy that she never received.

Nofer says if purebreds are banned in stores, consumers would also turn to puppy mills.

Kellye Pinkleton, Arizona senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, had this to say in a statement to the News 4 Tucson Investigators:

“The link between pet shops and puppy mill cruelty is well established, and we know that it is not uncommon for a person to purchase an animal from a pet store and see them get sick, culminating in significant vet care costs for a health issue that was present before purchase. Consumers should not only have more time to see a veterinarian and seek treatment, but they should have the option to be fully reimbursed for those medical expenses.  We strongly support the repeal provision in the bill that allows local governments the ability to regain the right to protect their constituents from ending up with sick puppies, being duped into supporting puppy mills and falling prey to lending schemes.  It is more important now than ever that localities be able to go farther than state law, as provisions of the current law that were intended to limit pet store sourcing to USDA-licensed breeders without certain violations are entirely unenforceable. Inspection report information the law relies on is no longer available to the public or state enforcement agents. Plus, a USDA license says less now than ever about the quality of a breeder, as the USDA is actively protecting the very entities it is supposed to regulate, is sorely under-resourced and has grown all too cozy with the industry breeders. “

A  Golden Retriever puppy was sold for $2007  by the Tucson Animal Kingdom store to a local couple in 2017.  About four months later, the couple noticed the puppy named Walter had trouble walking.  A vet said the dog needed two hip replacement surgeries that would cost approximately $8000. The couple couldn’t afford it, so they surrendered Walter to a rescue group.

Joyce Sanford runs the Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue. The rescue paid $4600 for one hip replacement; Walter went through physical therapy, and as of now, his other hip does not need surgery. The Golden was adopted by a Tucson couple and is doing well.

Sanford says while there are reputable breeders, many breeders and brokers care only about money. “They don’t know anything about them. The puppies have not been socialized,” Sanford said.

We asked Nofer of Animal Kingdom how often a dog sold by Animal Kingdom has a major, expensive health problem soon after it is sold. She said, “It happens. Thank goodness; it doesn’t happen very often.”

Pet stores by law must disclose health issues, and breeders with four or more female breeding dogs must be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Stores are not allowed to buy from any breeder that has a violation in the past two years.  However,  there are only ABOUT 100 USDA inspectors for 8000 licensed breeding facilities.

California last month became the first state to ban stores from selling pets unless they come from shelters or rescue groups. If Arizona’s legislature passes the so-called “puppy mill bill,” it would allow localities to vote on the ban. Tucson city council in 2014 approved it before the state said it’s not a local decision. The vote was 6-1, with only Shirley Scott voting against the ban.

Regarding pet stores, breeders and brokers, Councilman Steve Kozachik said, “These are people who treat these animals like they’re a piece of merchandise. They don’t care about the quality; they don’t care about the mills that they come from; they don’t care about the fact that these animals are suffering.”

We said to Nofer, the Animal Kingdom spokesperson, “There are those who say that your business is a puppy mill. What’s your response?”  She said, “Of course it’s not. That’s an uneducated statement. Puppy mills generally speaking are unethical dog breeders, who have too many pets on their property to care for properly. That is certainly not the case here.”

Pet store critics say buyers find out more about a dog’s health history from a shelter or rescue.  Joyce Sanford from the Golden Retriever rescue group has this warning for people who buy a puppy from a breeder: “They’re taking their chances. And sometimes it works out. And sometimes it doesn’t.

After we began this investigation,  Animal Kingdom issued a full refund,  of $2007 to the couple who bought that golden retriever that needed a hip replacement. The company was under no obligation to do so.

The proposed puppy mill bill remains in the state Commerce Committee. No vote is expected at least until next year’s session.  If the state passes the bill, Tucson City Council,  based on its 2014 vote, would then pass its own ordinance, requiring pet stores to sell animals from only shelters and rescues.

If you have any story, you’d like us to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.






Matthew Schwartz

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