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N4T Investigators: Puppy Problem?

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MARANA, Ariz. (KVOA) - Have you ever wondered where those puppies in the window come from? Marana Animal Control does. It called for a federal investigation into an out of state nonprofit puppy rescue organization. Animal control officials said a store in our community has been receiving its puppies from the source.

Bill Lorefice is the Chief Code Enforcement and Animal Control Officer at Marana Animal Control. He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin, Missouri,"...  appears that they're operating as more of a broker possibly than an actual rescue." 

Marana Animal Control said Puppy World, the pet store located in Marana that gets its puppies from Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin, Missouri, is in compliance with state laws. However, they have concerns about the Missouri rescue that it uses.

"There were a couple of things that made me think that even if they are a rescue that they still should be regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)," Lorefice said.

According to Lorefice, in Arizona puppies can legally come from a USDA licensed breeder, a local pound or a private non-profit.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators confirmed that Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin has obtained a nonprofit status through the IRS.

Marana Animal Control said it asked the USDA to investigate the rescue because through their own investigation it appeared that the rescue was operating as a rescue and a broker. Rescues do not need to be licensed through the USDA. However, brokers do.  

"Their role as they explained to me was that they acted as kind of as a middle man between breeders (and pet stores)," Lorefice said.

Animal advocacy groups such as Bailing Out Benji have claimed those breeders are puppy mills.  

"We discovered Pet Rescue Connect because we pull records from pet stores and puppy mills across the country, "  Nicole Galvan with Bailing Out Benji said.

By using documents to track where puppies come from Galvan said they were able to track where pet stores get pups from Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin which it said get them from puppy mills. 

While analyzing court documents the News 4 Tucson Investigators found another organization called Pet Connect Rescue. Documents showed it is located in Maryland.

 In March, the Maryland organization filed a complaint against Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin, Mo. for using its name. The lawsuit claims in-part that the Missouri rescue is, "...an illegal puppy mill operation, fraudulently labeling mass-produced puppies... As 'rescues,' ...Taking them from their mothers at eight weeks... or younger, and shipping them across the country by the truckload to be sold in pet stores..." 

"A puppy mill is a breeder that is purely in it for the money," Galvan said. "They keep them in confinement their entire lives. They don't have toys, they don't have beds. They just use the dogs to breed over and over again." 

Using USDA and state records from this year Galvan said Bailing Out Benji connected puppy mills to 10 pet stores in Arizona and four are in Pima County.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, licensed puppy mills are legal in Missouri and Arizona. 

Digging through Missouri Secretary of State's documents, the N4T Investigators found the director of Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin. They found several numbers possibly linked to the director and called them all. No one answered.  They also sent a message to an email address listed on Pet Connect Rescue in Joplin's website but never heard back. 

During a phone call, Puppy world told the News 4 Tucson Investigators they'd rather not comment on the investigation or accusations. They said the following statement, "We're not in support of any puppy mills. We don't accept that at all. We make sure that every dog we come across is a happy healthy, puppy ready for a happy, loving family. That's our priority."  

In a letter, the USDA told Marana Animal Control it's going to look into their concerns. It will get back to them in about two months.

When that time comes, N4T Investigators will bring you the latest details.

Puppy World was originally called Puppy World Rescue. After it was accused of misleading consumers and violating state law, it dropped "rescue" from its name.

Photos taken by an animal advocate in August show the store was not stating where its puppies came from, which is required.

Marana Animal Control said the store has since begun citing the source of its puppies.

If you have a story you'd like for us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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