THE BLOG
11/12/2014 01:35 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Virginia Pet Stores: Selling Puppies and a Pack of Lies

Our undercover investigations have proven time and time again that most pet stores purchase puppies from puppy mills. But that hasn't stopped so many pet stores we've investigated from trying to deceive customers about the origin of the pups it sells. This year we sent an undercover investigator with a hidden camera into every pet store in Virginia we could find that sells puppies. Our researchers also traced the sources of more than 2,000 puppies shipped to Virginia pet stores over seven months of 2014.

The results of our investigation have only fortified our previous assessments. We found widespread deception and omissions -- all seemingly designed to provide false assurances or to dupe the public into buying expensive puppies from mills treating dogs deplorably.

Some of the most noteworthy findings:

  • A puppy in one store (Pet-Go-Round, Virginia Beach) was so sick that he was gasping for air and could barely stand: our investigator called law enforcement as soon as she left the store. The puppy had been shipped from a dealer in Missouri, the nation's hotbed for mills.
  • One store (Family Pet, Chesapeake) told our investigator that they buy from a small breeder when really they buy from a Nebraskan with a long list of Animal Welfare Act violations. That kennel was featured in our 101 Puppy Mills report along with other large-scale breeders that violate the minimal standards of care set by the federal government.
  • Another store (Dreamy Puppy in Chantilly) claims in online ads that it doesn't buy from puppy mills, and its staff told us they get puppies only from "local breeders... small breeders in the area." Yet we found that Dreamy Puppy received puppies from several notorious puppy mills in Arkansas and Missouri, including one that cited ".22 shot by owner" as its official form of euthanasia, and another that pleaded guilty to complicity in cruelty to animals charges last April.

Altogether, we found most of the stores purchasing from large breeders who have been cited for Animal Welfare Act violations, or major out-of-state brokers linked to puppy mills in the Midwest. Six of the pet stores had purchased puppies from puppy mills so substandard that we had identified them by name in our previous reports on problem puppy mills. Most of the remaining stores refused to divulge much, if any, breeder information, apparently in violation of a Virginia law that requires them to post breeder information near each cage.

Our findings underscore what HSUS undercover investigations have proven time and time again, including our prior pet store investigations in New York, Chicago and Texas: the vast majority of pet stores are supplied by puppy mills, regardless of the assurances offered up by the stores' sales teams.

Virginia has a strong law to regulate large-scale breeders in the state. This is a much-needed policy, but alone, it is incomplete. The state needs to consider laws that even the playing field by ensuring that out-of-state substandard puppy mills can't enter the same market. State lawmakers can address this problem by passing laws to require pet stores to purchase only from breeders that meet the same Virginia standards of care already on the books. The state should ask more of these pet stores and the breeders who supply them.

Whether you're in Virginia or any other state, you can help end the cycle of misery for dogs in puppy mills. Make the next member of your family a shelter pet, adopt from a rescue or find a responsible breeder whom you can visit in person and see firsthand how the dogs are treated.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.