Unsuspecting Petland customers thinking they are buying puppies from reputable USDA licensed breeders may actually be purchasing pups farmed at cramped, filthy puppy mills, according to a new report by the Humane Society of the United States.
The findings are the result of an eight month investigation in which HSUS investigators say they visited 35 breeders across the country that they linked to 21 Petland stores, taping conditions with both hidden and visible cameras. At these breeder visits, the group says, they found "puppies living in filthy, barren cages reeking of urine, with inadequate care and socialization" and problems at every visited retail store, breeder, and puppy broker.
"These large scale puppy mills don't treat dogs like family pets," said HSUS Executive Vice President Michael Markarian. "They treat them like a cash crop."
The HSUS also alleges that while Petland employees at the stores visited assured customers that the company only deals with breeders that adhere to the highest standards of dog care, many of the store's puppies come from huge commercial breeders, "middle man" pet distributors, and an online pet auction.
The group says each Petland store visited was linked to puppy mills and that while some visited breeders were worse than others, "they were all mass-breeding facilities where dogs lived in constant confinement," said Markarian.
Calling the report "sensationalism at its best," Petland responded strongly, saying: "Reports such as those posted on the HSUS web site surface every year around the holiday season in conjunction with their annual fundraising efforts. Unfortunately, we were not interviewed or consulted nor were we part of the editing process…HSUS has a history of publicizing false information in an effort to raise money. They do not operate a single pet shelter or pet adoption facility anywhere in the U.S. To the contrary, over the last 10 years, Petland has adopted out more than 270,000 homeless puppies and kittens nationwide."
Humane Society's Report on Petland
A message on the phone line of the Petland press office directed media to this statement on the company's website. Petland did not respond to a request by ABC News for comment.
Markarian said the HSUS has a track record of exposing abuses to animals and that conditions at these breeders are documented on video. He said that it appears the Petland stores are franchises with responsibility for obtaining their own selection of puppies from brokers or breeders, but that the stores appear to receive recommendations from corporate headquarters.
"We need consumers to beware especially during the holiday shopping season, which is the top puppy buying time of the year," said Markarian.
The HSUS, the national advocate for a network of local humane societies which is currently holding its Puppy Mill Action Week to generate awareness about the issue, says it carried out its investigation by visiting the breeders as well as 21 Petland stores and reviewing interstate import records of more than 300 additional breeders. Investigators also analyzed state and USDA inspection records for more than 100 Petland breeders, finding that "more than 60 percent of the reports listed serious violations of basic animal care regulations." They also report that some breeders had sick or dead dogs in cages on their properties.
According to Petland's website, the company currently operates 140 stores in the U.S. and plans to open an additional 25 over the next years.