A pair of chain pet store owners who operate a location in the Hudson Valley are facing a lawsuit from the New York Attorney General’s Office for alleged improper care of puppies and “widespread fraud and deception.”
A lawsuit has been filed by acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood against Bell Pet Company, LLC, and its owners, Theodore and Sheila Bell - who own The Pet Zone store in Poughkeepsie - which alleges that they have sold puppies without having the animals examined by a veterinarian, failed to notify consumers of the lack of pre-sale medical treatment and violated the Pat Lemon Law by failing to provide timely reimbursement for veterinarian expenses consumers incurred after purchasing a sick dog from the stores.
Following an investigation by the Attorney General’s office, a judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting The Pet Zone from obtaining any new dogs for sale and additional oversight is being put in place regarding the sale of puppies currently in the Bell’s stores. According to Underwood, she intends to permanently ban the Bells from operating any business that sells live animals in New York and plans to obtain restitution for consumers bilked by the owners.
The lawsuit alleges that The Pet Zone sold possibly hundreds of puppies without having them examined by a medical official. If an animal showed signs of sickness, they were treated by store employees with antibiotics without informing any veterinarians. Employees were also instructed to destroy records when a puppy was sold without any examinations.
“After selling a puppy that was thereafter certified as ‘unfit for sale by the consumers’ veterinarian, The Pet Zone effectively denied customers their rights under the Pet Lemon Law to reimbursement of veterinarian bills by allegedly deceiving them about their options and forcing them to file warranty claims with a third party vendor,” according to Underwood. “Although the Pet Lemon Law requires the pet dealer to reimburse those costs within ten days, consumers often never received reimbursement or received it from the warranty company many months later.”
The Pet Zone also allegedly engaged in deceptive business practices to raise the cost of sales to consumers. The stores forced consumers to pay $99.95 for enrollment in a “PetKey” system which purportedly included the puppy’s health and microchip information. Instead, employees were allegedly told not to include medication other than routine vaccinations and de-wormers to the pet health history, depriving the consumer of the value of the product, which they could not decline.
The lawsuit came after several complaints were levied to the Attorney General’s office, which first issued a cease and desist order in July last year. Further investigation led to the uncovering of more alleged deceitful actions.
According to Underwood, the restraining order requires The Pet Zone to provide the court and the Attorney General’s office with sworn statements and documentation attesting under penalty of contempt that the puppies sold were properly examined and medications were properly disclosed to the consumers.
“Pet dealers have a legal and moral responsibility to provide proper treatment to the animals in their care, and consumers deserve to have confidence that the pets they purchase are certifiably healthy,” Underwood said. “Our office is committed to upholding these legal protections for animals and consumers alike, and we won’t hesitate to hold companies to account if try to deceive New Yorkers.”
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